Disparity continues in homeownership


Charlene Crowell | 7/12/2019, 6 a.m. | Updated on 7/12/2019, 8:10 p.m.
Nearly 90 years ago, Kelly Miller, a black sociologist and mathematician, said, “The Negro is up against the white man’s ...


Charlene Crowell

Nearly 90 years ago, Kelly Miller, a black sociologist and mathematician, said, “The Negro is up against the white man’s standard, without the white man’s opportunity.”  As the first black man to enroll as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in 1908, Mr. Miller also authored a book entitled “Race Adjustment,” published in 1908.

Ironically, despite the passage of time, Mr. Miller’s words express the same sentiment held today by many black Americans.

While economists, public policy think tanks and other entities may sing a chorus of how well the American economy is performing and expanding, people of color — especially black and brown people — have yet to see or feel economic vibrancy in our own lives, particularly when it comes to housing and homeownership.

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released on June 25 its annual report, The State of the Nation’s Housing, that chronicles recent trends and issues.

“The limited supply of smaller, more affordable homes in the face of rising demand suggests that the rising land costs and the difficult development environment make it unprofitable to build for the middle market,” said Chris Herbert, JCHS’s managing director.

Among this year’s key findings:

• Since 2018, the monthly housing payment on a median-priced home has been $1,775;

• In 2019, the cost of a median-priced home rose by 4 percent to $261,600; a comparable home in 2011 was priced far lower at $177,400.

• Nearly $52,000 would be required to make a 20 percent down payment on a median priced home. Even if buyers opted for an FHA 3.5 percent down payment mortgage, more than $9,000 would be needed to pay it, closing costs and related fees.

• In rental housing, 4 million units of housing priced at $800 or less were lost between 2011 and 2019. Also, since 2010, renters now include consumers earning $75,000 or more.

When homeownership is possible, housing costs can be better contained with fixed interest rate mortgages, tax credits and eventual equity. Even so, the Harvard report finds that only 36 percent of all consumers could afford to buy their own home in 2018. With higher priced homes in 2019, the affordability challenge worsens.

“It is equally noteworthy that once again this key report shares how consumers of color continue to face challenges in becoming homeowners, noted Nikitra Bailey, an executive vice president with the Center for Responsible Lending. “According to the report, only 43 percent of blacks and 47 percent of Latinx own their own home, while white homeownership remains at 73 percent. This 30 percent disparity deserves further examination and proportional remedies.

“Greater access to safe and affordable credit, better fair housing enforcement, preservation of anti-discrimination laws — including disparate impact — can play a role in eliminating homeownership gaps,” Ms. Bailey continued. “Further, as the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are publicly debated, a renewed commitment to serve all creditworthy borrowers must be embraced.”

On the same day as the Harvard report’s release, President Trump signed an executive order that establishes a new advisory body that will be led by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Eight federal agencies will work with state and local government officials to remove “burdensome governmental regulations” affecting affordable housing.

“Increasing the supply of housing by removing overly burdensome rules and regulations will reduce housing costs, boost economic growth, and provide more Americans with opportunities for economic mobility,” Dr. Carson stated. 

If Dr. Carson means that local zoning rules favor single-family homes over multi-family developments is a fundamental public policy flaw, he may be on to something. However this focus misses the crux of the affordable housing crisis: Wages are not rising in line with increasing housing costs. And now, after the housing industry continues to cater to more affluent consumers, while many older adults choose to age in place, the market has very little to offer those who want their own American Dream, including some who are anxiously awaiting the chance to form their own households.

Time will tell whether new advisors and proposals remember the lessons from the Great Recession.

The writer is communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending.