John, who is Black, and his wife, who is Japanese American, purchased a family home in a suburb of Atlanta in 2004.
When he was interviewed for my book, John — who asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his family’s privacy — said the couple chose to buy in College Park, where 80 percent of the residents are Black, because they expected their children to identify and be treated as Black. They wanted the kids “to be in the village of Black community life, and to understand the cadences and relationships that are built there.”
But the family’s time in College Park didn’t last long. Because of the relatively low home values in their neighborhood and the resulting low property taxes, the public schools in the area were underfunded. So after their second son was born, they decided to move to an area with a better-funded school district.
This time, they bought in Candler Park, an area that is 87 percent white and less than 5 percent Black. In 2014, John and his wife sold their College Park home in a short sale for $60,000 — $144,000 less than what they paid for it.
Were they just unlucky? No. Is this massive loss through real estate unusual? Not for Black families.
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Black Americans are often unable to build wealth from homeownership in the same way their white peers are, in large part because home prices are generally set by the people who make up the majority of buyers: white Americans. White families typically prefer to live in predominantly white neighborhoods with very few or no Black neighbors. Homes in these neighborhoods tend to have the highest market values because most prospective purchasers — who happen to be white — find them most desirable.
Black Americans, on the other hand, tend to prefer to live in racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods. Research has shown that once more than 10 percent of your neighbors are Black, the value of your home declines. As the percentage of Black neighbors increases, the property’s value plummets even further.
A study published in The American Journal of Sociology in 2009 found that “race, per se, shapes how whites and, to a lesser extent, Blacks view residential space.” The researchers showed videos of neighborhoods with different racial makeups to Black and white participants and found that even after they controlled for social class, whites found the all-white neighborhoods significantly more desirable than either the racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods. The mere presence of Blacks in a neighborhood made it less appealing to whites.
This is where the past meets the present. “There’s a carry-over of the redlining and steering days, before the fair housing laws were passed. So the difference in property values almost tracks 100 percent with the demographics of the area,” said Wayne Early, an Atlanta-based realtor and community economic activist.