Nationwide, home values in predominantly African American neighborhoods have been the least likely to recover. Across the 300 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, homes in 4 out of 10 Zip codes where blacks are the largest population group are worth less than they were in 2004. That’s twice the rate for mostly white Zip codes across the country. Across metropolitan Atlanta, nearly 9 in 10 largely black Zip codes still have home values below that point 12 years ago.
And in South DeKalb, the collapse has been even worse. In some Zip codes, home values are still 25 percent below what they were then. Families here, who’ve lost their wealth and had their life plans scrambled, see neighborhoods in the very same county — mostly white neighborhoods — thriving.
“I don’t think it’s anything local residents did that caused that to happen,” Early says. “I think it’s all outside forces that did this.”
The region reflects the complex ways that housing and race have long been intertwined in America. Across the country, blacks are less likely to own homes; those who did were more likely during the housing bust to slip underwater; and as a result, a larger share of black wealth has been destroyed in the years since then.
These disparities, though, are not simply about income, about higher poverty levels among blacks, or lower-quality homes where they live, according to economists who have studied the region. The disparities exist in places, like neighborhoods in South DeKalb County, where black families make six-figure incomes.
I've talked about the destruction of black wealth before, but in Atlanta the numbers and the evidence are both brutal reminders that race is still an issue in America. These are black folks who made it, doctors, engineers, regional managers, lawyers, and small business owners, who find that in their neighborhoods their homes are worth 40% less than their white counterparts. Still.
“It just does not make sense,” says Sands, a retired Air Force information manager with two grown children, sitting in his living room with Early. The two men co-chair a housing committee for the local community improvement association that is researching what’s wrong with housing values. “You’ve got doctors, lawyers, teachers, all kinds of professional people, retired military like myself, who’ve done everything right — everything right — and it never seems to work out in our favor,” Sands says. “We’re not talking about people who got fraudulent loans, who didn’t have jobs to pay for them.”
There’s something fundamentally unfair about that, he and Early believe, about all the African Americans here who got the education, to get the job, to buy the home, to create the wealth, to sustain their families — only to fall behind anyway.
“Some people are going to have issues,” Sands says. They miss the good interest rates, or have the misfortune of living near a foreclosured home, or they bear the brunt of a change in lending policy. Of his black neighbors, Sands says: “We are always ‘some people.’ ”
And so it goes. But what about black migration away from the South? Certainly as openly hostile Republican red states make it clear that black people are less than welcome, raw supply and demand can explain the drop in prices, right?
Not in Atlanta. In fact, not in the South, where black families are relocating away from the Rust Belt and the Midwest back to southern states specifically for more reasonable housing prices than in places like San Francisco and New York City.
Where else are black Americans moving? One destination dominates: the South. A century ago, blacks were leaving the South to go north and west; today, they are reversing that journey, in what the Manhattan Institute's Daniel DiSalvo dubbed “The Great Remigration.” DiSalvo found that black Americans now choose the South in pursuit of jobs, lower costs and taxes, better public services (notably, schools) and sunny weather for retirement.
Historically, Southern blacks lived in rural areas. A large rural black population remains in the South today, often living in the same types of conditions as rural whites, which is to say, under significant economic strain. But the new black migrants to the South are increasingly flocking to the same metro areas that white people are — especially Atlanta, the new cultural and economic capital of black America, with a black population of nearly 2 million. The Atlanta metro area, one-third black, continues to add more black residents (150,000 since 2010) than any other region.Again, these are highly-paid professionals here having these issues, they are in neighborhoods with low crime, good schools, and plenty of access to Atlanta's highways, shopping, and other amenities. The only difference is race, and it's costing them tens of thousands of dollars, maybe even six figures in home value.
But you tell me what the problem is if it isn't related to race.