Black homeowners are twice as likely to have to return to renting than whites
Black homeowners are twice as likely to lose their homes and have to return to renting than whites, in part because their relatives may be less able to help if they are struggling to pay their mortgage, according to a new study.
Over a 30-year period stretching from 1984 to 2017, 10% of Black homeowners became renters again compared with 5% of whites, according to new research published in the journal "Demography."
That gap is glaring at a time when a growing number of Americans face foreclosure or eviction as the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions out of work and magnified racial disparities in health, job security and income.
"They might not have access to wealth in the family,'' says Gregory Sharp, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College who co-wrote the report. "So, therefore, because African American homeowners are already at a more vulnerable state on average, it stands to reason that they’re worse affected by these types of disasters like COVID.’’
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While the greater number of African American homeowners losing their homes is partly the result of personal circumstances, such as personal wealth and job status, another significant factor is the ability for homeowners to ask relatives for help when they are in a financial bind.
The average net worth of a Black homeowner's extended family was roughly $133,000, the report found, while the average net worth of their white counterparts' relatives was $442,000.
Additionally, 24% of Black property owners' relatives were living in poverty versus 6% of white homeowners' extended family members.
Poorer family members are not only less able to help out a relative who's struggling to make a mortgage payment, but they may also need financial help from relatives themselves, Sharp says.
Building block to wealth
Homeownership is critical to building wealth and a key reason for the vast difference in the net worth of white families, which was $171,000 in 2016, versus Black families who had a net worth of $17,150 according to Brookings Institution.
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In addition to being a potentially valuable inheritance that can be passed on to the next generation, a family can tap a home's equity to pay for a child's college education, launch a business or give a child the down payment to buy a home of their own.
As of the first quarter of this year, 44% of Black families owned their own homes compared with 73.7% of white families, according to the U.S. Census. And that disparity looms larger depending on the city, according to an analysis of census data by the national real estate brokerage Redfin.
Black families experienced a slight increase in homeownership in the past year, inching up from 41.1% during the first quarter of 2019. But that progress is being threatened by the coronavirus pandemic which is disproportionately affecting both the physical and financial health of Black Americans.
The same systemic racism that historically denied African Americans mortgages or subjected them to predatory lending also leads to their homes being valued less than comparable properties owned by whites.
Still, even in the face of such bias, a home can be a vital investment that builds wealth over time.
"Any kind of policies that can be designed around sustaining homeownership will benefit everybody," Sharp says, "but particularly Black and brown people who are more at risk.’’
Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones