Loss of housing wealth hits black suburbanites hard

The housing and economic crisis of the last decade has hit black suburbanites particular hard:

But today, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county stands out for a different reason — its residents have lost far more wealth than families in neighboring, majority-white suburbs. And while every one of these surrounding counties is enjoying a strong rebound in housing prices and their economies, Prince George’s is lagging far behind, and local economists say a full recovery appears unlikely anytime soon…

The recession and tepid recovery have erased two decades of African American wealth gains. Nationally, the net worth of the typical African American family declined by one-third between 2010 and 2013, according to a Washington Post analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, a drop far greater than that of whites or Hispanics…

Not only is African American wealth down, but the chances of a quick comeback seem bleak. Just over a decade ago, homeownership — the single biggest engine of wealth creation for most Americans — reached a historic high for African Americans, nearly 50?percent. Now the black homeownership rate has dipped under 43?percent, and the homeownership gap separating blacks and whites is at levels not seen in a century, according to Boston University researcher Robert A. Margo…

Many researchers say the biggest portion of the wealth gap results from the strikingly different experiences blacks and whites typically have with homeownership. Most whites live in largely white neighborhoods, where homes often prove to be a better investment because people of all races want to live there. Predominantly black communities tend to attract a narrower group of mainly black buyers, dampening demand and prices, they say…

Scholars who have studied this dynamic and real estate professionals who have lived it say the price differences go beyond those that might be dictated by the perceived quality of schools, or the public and commercial investment made in particular neighborhoods. The big difference maker, they say, is race.

In other words, simply promoting homeownership – a key part of the ideal of the American Dream and also something taken as a sign that various groups have made it – is not the complete answer for thinking about equality among different groups. What homes people own and where they are located also matter. Decades of research in urban sociology and related areas shows that blacks and other minorities often don’t live in the same suburban settings as white suburbanites. Their homes tend to be located in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods that have higher non-white populations. This is due to a variety of reasons including long-term white wealth that gives whites better opportunities to move to wealthier and whiter places, zoning practices in wealthier communities that tend to limit cheaper or affordable housing (examples here and here), mobility patterns among whites that show they leave neighborhoods and communities as they become more non-white (the process of “white flight” continues in some suburban areas), and patterns of mortgage lending as well as renting that tend to take advantage of poorer and non-white residents. Tackling the issue of residential segregation still matters today even as more minorities and poor residents move to the suburbs.

 

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