Black Homeownership: How Past Inequalities are the Cause of Today’s Inequities

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  • Author Jameelah Stovall
  • Published July 23, 2020
  • Word count 687

I have been a victim of unfair housing practices. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do because this is a consequence of practices that have been in play for decades. The 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) was designed to regulate unfair discriminatory real estate practices; in turn, lessening the housing disparities between Black and white people in this country. That did not happen! There is a 30% gap between Black and white homeownership, which is greater now than it was before the FHA was passed (Jung Hyun Choi, Urban Institute).

The national average for homeownership is 64%. Black homeownership is 43%, the lowest of all ethnic groups. How did we get here? As noted in Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law”, local, state, and national practices allowed new housing communities to be developed and sold at extremely low costs, as long as real estate agents and homeowners did not sell to African Americans. This went on for years. While white Americans were allowed to take advantage of these new and developing communities at low costs, Black and Brown people were relegated to under-developed slums and public housing communities. White America was gaining equity. Black America had no equity to gain. While white America was building wealth, Black America was losing it.

Making money, saving money, and investing money are 3 keys to building wealth over time. African American income is 60% of white income. This disparity is present despite education, location, age, and career position (John Schoen, CNBC). If you make less money, there is not much to save and even less to invest, creating a barrier to wealth building. Homeownership is the main component of wealth and investment for most American households (Susan Wachter, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania). With the aforementioned mid-century unfair discriminatory housing practices and the domino affect it has caused, it should be no surprise that African American wealth is just 10% of white wealth (Samuel Du Bois, Cook Center on Social Equity)!

While white Americans were able to build the majority of their wealth through homeownership, there were other opportunities afforded to them that Black Americans just didn’t have. Less Black Americans are likely to be able to build and borrow equity out of their homes, simply because they own 30% less homes. Where they do own homes, their homes are considered less valuable. Homes that were exclusively sold to white Americans for low costs in the mid-20th century are now selling for $300,000 or more (Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law), while homes sold by Black Americans are often under-valued, on average, by $48,000 (Brookings Institute and Gallup study joint report).

The profit and equity from homeownership allows families to experience many aspects of life differently. Parents put their children through private school and college with home equity and profit. These funds are often used in times of economic downturn. These funds are sometimes reserved for medical expenses and unforeseen emergencies. In often cases, these funds are passed down to children as a contribution towards the purchase of their own home. If you don’t have home equity or a lump sum of cash to use in these situations, what do you do? You take out loans for college, you incur debt through medical expenses, and you are forced to rent or take out larger mortgages than your white counterparts.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act along with programs put in place by the Department of Housing and Urban Development have “tried” to address the gap between Black and white homeownership. Practices have been put in place that should work to help more Black people own homes, so why do we see greater disparities than we’ve seen since the 1950s? The Fair Housing Act along with other programs and laws never addressed the past inequalities that are the cause of today’s inequities! If white homeownership is at 74% and Black homeownership is at 43%, FHA loans, down payment assistance programs, outlawing discrimination based on race when selling, renting or financing a home is not going to fix what got us here in the first place. The initial deficit of access and homeownership has to be addressed.

I'm just a first time home-buyer wondering what led to all these FHA programs that I can't seem to access.

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