A House Divides Us

Home ownership contributes to wealth gap between minorities and whites

Home equity remains the cornerstone of wealth building for most American families. Thanks to an appreciation in housing prices, the average household net worth has increased dramatically, according to The State of the Nation’s Housing: 2000, an annual report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Case in point: The value of primary residences has climbed 20% between 1995 and 1998, creating the opportunity for home owners to capitalize on soaring prices if they sell. And despite recent growth in home ownership for minorities, many African Americans are still not getting their share of real estate value.

“Levels of home ownership of African Americans start at a lower base, so any gains look significant,” says Eric Belsky, executive director of the Joint Center. “Yet, the narrowing of the gap between African Americans and other Americans has not been great,” he says.

For most African Americans the issue of home ownership is a double-edged sword. On one hand, housing and credit market discrimination make it difficult for blacks to afford homes. On the other hand, specially tailored mortgage loan programs make it affordable for more African Americans to buy, but not in viable neighborhoods.

William Spriggs, director of research and public policy at the National Urban League in Washington, D.C., says, “Homes [in traditionally black areas] don’t appreciate in value at the same accelerated rates as [homes in white areas] because of residential segregation that make African American neighborhoods less desirable.”

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