Advocate for fair housing appraisals.

TAKE ACTION

  • Follow these steps to report any unfair housing discrimination against you or someone you know. Use this website to help determine the best course of action by state.

  • Research to find a fair housing organization in your community to support.

  • Consider: How do inequitable housing appraisals affect the value of the homes in your neighborhood? How may it have affected the generational wealth of your family?

Carlette Duffy, a Black homeowner in Indianapolis, received an unusually low appraisal value for her home. After reading reports of discrimination in home appraisals, she contacted a different company. This time, she was sure not to reveal her race or gender, keeping all communications to email. For the home visit, she removed all photos of herself and her family from her home, and asked her friend’s white husband to act as her brother. As a result, the appraisal of Carlette Duffy’s home more than doubled, jumping from $125,000 to $259,000 (NBC News).

Last fall, Abena Horton shared a similar story about her home appraisal experience. Based on the market prices for their neighborhood in Jacksonville, FL, Horton and her partner expected an estimated $450,000 for their four-bedroom, four-bath ranch-style house. So, they were surprised to find the appraiser’s value of $330,000. According to her Facebook post that went viral, she organized a second appraisal – only after doing the following:

“We took down all family pictures containing Black relatives. We took down all pictures of African-American greats that we display to inspire our son. Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison came down from the bookshelves; Shakespeare went up. My son and I took a convenient shopping trip during the appraisal, leaving my white male husband to show the appraiser around, alone.”

The house was appraised for $465,000.

These are not isolated incidents; Black homeowners have shared countless stories of removing family photos or recruiting white friends to lead appraisals and home sales in hopes of getting a fairer price. In the NYTimes, comedian and actor D.L. Hughley shared that an appraisal he received was so low the bank flagged the report for inaccuracy (NYTimes).

Devaluing property owned by Black people is an institutionalized practice in the U.S. In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the federal government created a series of initiatives to incentivize homeownership (The Atlantic). As part, surveyors analyzed neighborhoods throughout the country to identify which were most deserving of support. They would color code regions: green for “best,” blue for “still desirable,” yellow for “definitely declining” and red for “hazardous. Areas outlined in red, or “redlined” areas, were neighborhoods with predominantly communities of color. Racial biases at the time saw these individuals as untrustworthy for lines of credit and their communities as unfavorable places to live. As a result, loans in redlined neighborhoods were extremely high or completely unavailable (Washington Post). From 1934 to 1962, “98% of the Federal Housing Administration Loans went to White Americans” (NBC Chicago). A 1943 brochure encouraged realtors to avoid undesirables such as “madams, bootleggers, gangsters—and ‘a colored man of means who was giving his children a college education and thought they were entitled to live among whites’” (The Atlantic).

These practices “ended” in 1968, when the Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in housing. But discriminatory practices are still happening today. These racial perspectives of the value of “redlined” neighborhoods, and homeowners of color, are reflected in how these homes are valued in today’s time, with devastating impact.

A study from Brookings Institute puts this into perspective. Their research found that, on average, owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses. Homes located where the population is 50% Black are considered half as valuable as communities with no Black residents. And these neighborhoods with greater devaluation are more likely to be segregated than others. They also produce less upward mobility for the Black children who grow up in those communities. This mobility is just a hint at the generational impact of this economic disparity and emphasizes why rebalancing this disparity is so essential. Read the full study over at Brookings’ website.

And this devalued property is ripe for gentrification, a topic we covered in an earlier newsletter. Many neighborhoods that are historically non-white will receive an influx of middle-class people, eager for accessible property prices. This is followed by a swift revaluation of the same property, forcing out existing community members or dissuading others from moving in (NPR).

And when economic justice meets social justice, more tensions arise, evident in the destruction of property during protests last summer. After a history of redlining and dispossession, Black people often live in communities where they don’t own any property. Lack of homeownership usually means a lack of local agency; landowners are often prioritized in policies made by local government, as they pay the property taxes that influence funding for local utilities. So when police brutality happens, Black people are not just outraged by the violence itself, but the lack of agency to drive political change. Conservatives will argue that communities are so willing to “destroy their own neighborhoods,” but who’s neighborhoods are they, really, if Black people can’t safely walk the streets to enjoy them?

This conversation is explored in-depth by Aaron Ross Coleman in an interview with Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a scholar-in-residence at American University, and the author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.

As long as Black lives matter less than the property that they are surrounded by, you never provide incentives not to burn something down. So when people say, “Don’t burn down the goods, businesses, services in your local neighborhood.” They’re missing the point of why people are protesting. The very fact that you have to say that means that they — the property, the goods, the services, the businesses — are so undervalued that the people around them are not respected.”

Andre M. Perry for Vox

The appraisal industry is responsible for carrying these practices into the present day. The Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers, is working to increase representation and improving equitable conditions for homeowners (Forbes). Although accountability is necessary for shaping the industry, dismantling racism is necessary for reimagining the system – and creating a more equitable journey of homeownership for all.

Key Takeaways

  • Black homeowners routinely experience lower appraisal values than white homeowners.

  • The practice of “redlining” historically made homeownership incredibly difficult for non-white communities, and the discrimination from that time still persists.

  • Homeownership is important for building generational wealth and share of voice in local communities.

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