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On the House: For minorities, there's still inequality in the housing market

Caitlin McCabe, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Home and Consumer News

In a real estate market as hot as Philadelphia's right now, it's no secret that buyer frustration abounds. Few homes remain on the market, prices in some neighborhoods are higher than they were a decade ago, and many shoppers struggle to find enough cash for a down payment.

It's even worse if you're a minority.

According to figures released by the housing website Zillow this year, less than a quarter of homes nationwide are owned by minorities -- despite the fact that African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and other nationalities make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population.

And in Philadelphia as well as nationwide, there are few signs of significant improvement.

Low minority home-ownership rates, Zillow and other experts say, is the result of decades of discriminatory housing policies, financial hurdles, and market conditions that have disproportionately affected people of color. At the same time, continued residential segregation -- essentially, residents choosing to live in neighborhoods made up of people of their same race -- has posed an equally large problem for boosting minority home ownership, the experts say.

The combination of such factors has created the problems that continue to perpetuate the barriers that minorities face when buying a home today. How exactly did we get here -- and where does that leave us?


The origin of the modern minority home-ownership problem can be traced to the 20th century, when the Federal Housing Administration actively engaged in "redlining," a practice of determining which neighborhoods to approve mortgages in -- and which to deny them. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the FHA explicitly refused to back loans for African American home buyers -- subsequently pushing many of them into declining and high-poverty areas. From there, some minorities were victims of predatory lending. Or, they were relegated to renting, pushed out of homeownership entirely.

Today, redlining is illegal. But its aftermath is still palpable. According to Camille Charles, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the United States remains residentially segregated -- with Philadelphia ranking as more segregated than most cities.

"Segregation concentrates poverty in ways that are detrimental to the flourishing of those neighborhoods," Charles said in a recent interview.

According to Charles, who studies residential segregation and the behaviors that drive it, redlining created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Government policies shepherded minorities to certain neighborhoods, and now, based on the natural preference of wanting to avoid living in areas filled with people who are different from us, minority groups continue to want to live in the same areas together, she said.


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