Being Black costs Black homeowners, on average, $48,000 per home. And it doesn't matter if you are in a Black neighborhood or not, you pay nearly a 25% penalty for simply being Black in America.
Abena and Alex Horton wanted to take advantage of low home-refinance rates brought on by the coronavirus crisis. So in June, they took the first step in that process, welcoming a home appraiser into their four-bedroom, four-bath ranch-style house in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Hortons live just minutes from the Ortega River, in a predominantly white neighborhood of 1950s homes that tend to sell for $350,000 to $550,000. They had expected their home to appraise for around $450,000, but the appraiser felt differently, assigning a value of $330,000. Ms. Horton, who is Black, immediately suspected discrimination.
The couple’s bank agreed that the value was off and ordered a second appraisal. But before the new appraiser could arrive, Ms. Horton, a lawyer, began an experiment: She took all family photos off the mantle. Instead, she hung up a series of oil paintings of Mr. Horton, who is white, and his grandparents that had been in storage. Books by Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison were taken off the shelves, and holiday photo cards sent by friends were edited so that only those showing white families were left on display. On the day of the appraisal, Ms. Horton took the couple’s 6-year-old son on a shopping trip to Target, and left Mr. Horton alone at home to answer the door.
The new appraiser gave their home a value of $465,000 — a more than 40 percent increase from the first appraisal.
This is what structural racism in America looks like.
Race and housing policy have long been intertwined in the United States. Black Americans consistently struggle more than their white counterparts to be approved for home loans, and the specter of redlining — a practice that denied mortgages to people of color in certain neighborhoods — continues to drive down home values in Black neighborhoods.
Even in mixed-race and predominantly white neighborhoods, Black homeowners say, their homes are consistently appraised for less than those of their neighbors, stymying their path toward building equity and further perpetuating income equality in the United States.
Home appraisers are bound by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to not discriminate based on race, religion, national origin or gender. Appraisers can lose their license or even face prison time if they’re found to produce discriminatory appraisals. Title XI of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, enacted in 1989, also binds appraisers to a standard of unbiased ethics and performance.
“My heart kind of broke,” Ms. Horton said. “I know what the issue was. And I knew what we needed to do to fix it, because in the Black community, it’s just common knowledge that you take your pictures down when you’re selling the house. But I didn’t think I had to worry about that with an appraisal.”
Appraisals, by nature, are subjective. And discrimination, particularly the subconscious biases and microaggressions that have risen to the fore in white America this summer following the death of George Floyd, is notoriously difficult to pinpoint.
Ms. Horton shared her experiment in a widely circulated Facebook post, earning 25,000 shares and more than 2,000 comments, many of which came from Black homeowners and carried the same message: This also happened to me.
In each comment, a repeated theme: Home appraisers, who work under codes of ethics but with little regulation and oversight, are often all that stands between the accumulation of home equity and the destruction of it for Black Americans.
At every juncture, the federal and state governments in this country make it as hard as possible to prosecute discrimination cases, because civil rights and hate crime laws are seen solely as vehicles to unfairly victimize white Americans who make "trivial mistakes". So-called "real" discrimination and racism simply doesn't exist, after all, we elected and re-elected a Black president, right?
And yet, here we are, with a 40% penalty for being Black, outright, in the value of your home.
But Black people are all poor and lazy, and if they wanted to be wealthy, they'd be wealthy because America!
But as Trump says:
"It is what it is."
And what America is?
Built on 400 years of structural racism.