Opinion | Blacks Still Face a Red Line on Housing

Opinion | Blacks Still Face a Red Line on Housing

The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which outlawed housing discrimination on paper, might have made amends for some of this history had the federal government actually enforced it. But studies continue to show pervasive discrimination in housing, and lower-income whites still have greater access than middle-class African-Americans to healthy mixed-income communities.

A study by the National Fair Housing Alliance of a dozen metropolitan areas — including Atlanta; Austin, Tex., Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; Detroit; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Antonio; and the District of Columbia — showed that real estate discrimination was pervasive.

The alliance filed a federal fair housing complaint against a real estate group in Jackson, Miss., charging that real estate agents were denying African-Americans the right to buy homes in high-value areas that would provide greater returns on their investments after testers posing as home buyers established that black and white clients were treated very differently. The real estate group settled the case by agreeing to specific steps to expand equal housing opportunities.


African-Americans who had amassed equity in their homes and who should have been offered safe, reasonably priced loans were set up for default in the run-up to the recession, when they were targeted for predatory loans that were often deceptively marketed. A study of the problem in Baltimore found that black residents were charged higher rates and discriminated against at every stage of the transactions compared with comparably qualified white customers.

The authors determined that the loan default rate would have been considerably lower for black customers had they been treated in the same fashion as whites. Most tellingly of all, the study took into account factors like credit scores, income and down payments that would have been known to brokers and lenders when these abusive loans were made.

It comes as no surprise that such tactics took a heavy toll on black homeowners, who already lagged far behind whites in terms of wealth and homeownership levels. An analysis by the nonprofit Urban Institute shows that between 2001 and 2016 the homeownership rate for African-Americans declined about a five percentage points, to 41 percent, as opposed to just one percentage point for whites, whose rate fell to just over 71 percent. The nine percentage point decline for middle-aged black homeowners is particularly ominous, given that these people are closer to retirement with fewer resources to rely on.

The Urban Institute’s analysis of the black-white homeownership gap in 100 cities across the country shows that none have actually closed the ownership gap. The gap was widest in Northeastern and Midwestern cities — with the widest gaps, listed in order of severity, found in Minneapolis; Albany; Buffalo; New York; Salisbury, Md.; and Bridgeport, Conn. The cities with the smallest gaps were Killeen, Tex.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Austin; and Augusta, Ga.

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