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The Heartbreaking Decrease in Black Homeownership

Racism and rollbacks in government policies are taking their toll on black homeownership in America.  In 2004, (the pinnacle of homeownership in the United States), nearly half of all African American families owned a home, the record figure, fueled by the housing boom of the early 2000s, was still one-third less than housing rates for whites. But it was widely viewed as a milestone for a minority group that spent generations largely shut out of a fundamental pillar of the American Dream.

Yet, over the past decade, the real estate fortunes for African Americans have reversed course; despite a strengthening economy, including record low unemployment and higher wages for black workers.  Homeownership levels have dropped incrementally almost every year since 2004; unfortunately, the 43% fall in 2017, virtually erased all of the gains made since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 - the landmark legislation outlawing housing discrimination.

The reasons for the downturn in the black homeownership rate are varied and complex, they include;

A lack of affordable housing in some areas and chronically low inventory in others.Government rollbacksHistorical structural problemsPolicies and regulations shutting out low to moderate income families.Rising student debt is increasingly an issue, too, as more financially strapped buyers struggle to save for a down payment.

Securing a mortgage is also more challenging for African Americans 

In 2017, 19.3 percent of black applicants were denied a conventional home loan, compared with 7.9 percent for whites, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The refinancing market saw similar differentials with blacks rejected on 39 percent of their applications and whites on 22.9 percent.  Lenders insist the gap reflects wealth disparities among racial groups, with minorities generally having lower credit scores and less cash for down payments. But Antoine Thompson, executive director of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) report the disparity reflects historical and structural problems.  “In some cases, even when blacks have higher credit scores, they were often offered worse financing terms than less-qualified whites,” he said. “So, it’s hard to argue that bias isn’t a factor.”

Since 2001, the African American homeownership rate has declined 5% compared to the 1% decline for white families and increases for Hispanic families.The homeownership rate of black millennials stands at 13% compared to 37% for white millennials.About 240,020 African Americans lost their homes to foreclosure between 2005 and 2008.The median wealth of white households in 2016 ($162,800) was ten times higher than that of black households ($16,300) and eight times higher than that of Hispanic households ($21,400).

Historian Richard Rothstein, a housing policy expert at the Economic Policy Institute, said that even though fair housing advocates should be applauded for policing discrimination, a stronger government response is needed to blunt decades of discriminatory housing policies.  “It’s no surprise that black families are still experiencing some level of discrimination,” Rothstein said. “Because of the long-term effects of racially explicit government housing policies, where for decades blacks were excluded from buying homes in some areas, we need equally explicit government policies to remedy the imbalance,” he add. “There is no way this can be fixed by market forces alone.”  Leonte Benton, 34, said having a strong understanding of the home-buying process helped when he purchased his four-bedroom home in South Fulton, Ga., in January.

A commercial real estate broker, Benton said he fully understood the challenges of securing a loan and having enough saved for a down payment well before his home search began. He also sought out broker Jeffrey Hicks, of Apollo Associates Realty in Atlanta, after learning that he specialized in helping African Americans build wealth through homeownership.  “People can underestimate what’s needed to actually buy a home,” said Benton, who moved into the property with his wife and their 1-year-old child. The couple have another baby on the way. “So I can see where families can come up short in the process, but being fully prepared made all the difference for us.”


McMullen, T.  (2019).  The heartbreaking decrease in black homeownership.  The Washington Post.

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