The Black and White Housing Gap: It Might Be More than the Money
Last week, the New York Times reported findings that African American families with higher incomes tend to live in areas with more low income African Americans due to segregation, as well as systemic racism in housing and home mortgage lending. The report also brings attention to racism in white neighborhoods, which black families may wish to avoid altogether when choosing a place to live.
One startling figure from the report is that black families with an income of $100,000 per year are more likely to live in lower income neighborhoods than white families making around $25,000 per year. This is partially due to redlining which has historically left black families with fewer buying options. Even a 2012 study from the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that black renters are told about 11% fewer units than white renters, and black home buyers are told about 17% fewer homes.
The historical wealth gap between black and white families also determines which families are able to afford or save for a down payment for a home in an upper class neighborhood. Decades of discrimination in federal housing programs kept African Americans from gaining access to affluent neighborhoods, while white moves to the suburbs were supported and subsidized by the government, which added to their generational wealth.
A 2012 Forbes article by Emory tax law professor Dorothy Brown further demonstrates how home ownership in black neighborhoods diminishes black wealth. Brown writes that the “market penalizes integration,” as the appreciation gap between black and white homes occurs when a neighborhood is more than 10% black and grows as the percentage of black homeowners increases.
As a result, black homes do not appreciate in value much as white homes, making it difficult for African Americans to sell their homes in black neighborhoods. Brown also pointed to the 2008 housing crash and the subsequent market rebound, which left white wealth median net worth down 16%, but also left black net worth down 50%.
However, it is important to note that black families have historically faced hostility when attempting to move to whiter and more suburban areas. The NYT article follows a black family’s move to a white neighborhood in Milwaukee, where the father reports being frequently pulled over by police in his own neighborhood following the move. He also discussed the difficulties his children had assimilating with white neighbors and friends.
In light of the deluge of high profile police shootings of black folks in the past few years, black families may also simply prefer the comfort of familiar faces over potential confrontation with police and neighbors. The NYT article shared that one young boy was hesitant to play with a toy gun in his white neighbor’s front yard, remembering the police shooting of twelve year old Tamir Rice.
Despite the persistent disparities in housing between black and white middle class Americans, these findings demonstrate that, when choosing where to live, black families often have a decision to make that may be much more than monetary.
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