The racial wealth gap in real estate is growing. Here are 3 ways housing has been harder for Black Americans in 2020.

The racial wealth gap in real estate is growing. Here are 3 ways housing has been harder for Black Americans in 2020.
Black Americans pay higher mortgage interest rates on lower-value homes than white Americans, new studies find.Prostock-Studio/Getty Images
  • The racial wealth gap in real estate between Black and white Americans seems to be worsening, according to two new studies and a recently filed lawsuit.
  • On average, Black families pay over $60,000 more in lifetime homeownership costs than white families, according to MIT researchers.
  • Meanwhile, their homes don't receive valuations as high as white homeowners' properties do, per an Oxford University Press report.
  • The challenges Black Americans face in the real estate market are underscored by a recent lawsuit against Redfin that claims the popular brokerage's pricing policies discriminate against minority sellers and buyers.

The coronavirus pandemic ushered in record-low mortgage interest rates that sparked a buying frenzy and sent the US barreling toward a housing shortage.

And while it could seem like everyone is buying a house in 2020, real estate purchases have proven to be more difficult for one demographic in particular: Black Americans.

The national homeownership rate for Black families is 44%, while it is 73.7% for white families. The difference is significant, especially when considering that home ownership is a major form of household wealth accumulation in the US, in addition to stocks and high wages.

Black families, as Business Insider's Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Madison Hoff reported, "lack easy access to these levers of prosperity, and it's a hurdle to building wealth over generations."

The racial wealth gap in real estate has a long and insidious history, as the practice of "redlining" was a major factor in the white middle class building home equity during the 20th century — while the Black middle class largely missed out.


And the gap just keeps growing, based off reports and lawsuits using data from the present day that show Black homeowners pay more, get lower appraisals, and may still be facing discrimination in the real-estate market.

Black homeowners pay higher costs

An October study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that, on average, Black Americans pay out more while they are homeowners than white Americans do.

The study found that Black Americans pay $743 more per year in mortgage interest payments, $550 more in mortgage insurance premiums, and $390 more in property taxes. The researchers calculated that Black families will spend $13,464 more than white families over the life of a home loan, which they estimated ultimately amounts to $67,320 in "lost retirement savings for Black homeowners."

MIT's Edward L. Golding, Michelle Aronowitz, and Jung Hyun Choi labeled it "the Black tax."

"The average Black family has about $130,000 less in savings at the time of retirement than the average white family," Golding, who is also the executive director of the MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy, told Bloomberg. "About half of that disparity can be directly attributed to the higher cost that they're paying on homeownership."


The difference is more than enough to keep minorities priced out of the housing market, which, to compound matters for Black Americans seeking to buy, has only gotten more expensive throughout the pandemic year of 2020.

Black-owned homes are appraised at lower values

Even today, the racial makeup of a neighborhood can dictate its homes' value.

In 2015, the difference between the average home value in a predominantly white neighborhood and a predominantly Black neighborhood was $164,000, according to a September Oxford University Press study. In 1980, it was $86,000.

The researchers said this widening gap could be attributed to appraisers using the "sales comparison approach" to valuing homes. This strategy, based off previously sold properties nearby, can result in appraisers valuing homes based on pricing that was determined prior to the implementation and enforcement of fair housing laws in the 1960s and 1970s. By using neighboring properties as benchmarks — whose prices may have been depressed for decades — appraisers today "literally baked into the system the racialized element and continued it," said Junia Howell, one of the authors on the study.

The National Association of Realtors' director of fair housing policy, Bryan Green, told CNBC that even when appraisers try to stay unbiased, they still use "market conditions" to estimate home values. But those very conditions may well have been shaped by the pervasive practice of lower prices in minority neighborhoods.


"If race is baked into market conditions, everyone can disavow blame for a big problem," Green said. "Everyone can say they are innocent, but there remains a big systematic problem."

The study noted that minority communities have built less wealth than white communities over the last 50 years as a direct result of the disparity in home appraisals.

A lawsuit alleges Redfin discriminates against Black home sellers

On top of paying more to own homes and having their homes valued at a lower prices, Black Americans could also struggle with discriminatory real estate practices.

On October 29, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) filed a lawsuit against Redfin, the popular real estate brokerage. The lawsuit alleges that the company "discriminates against sellers and buyers of homes in communities of color in many metropolitan areas."

The lawsuit hinges on Redfin's minimum home price policy, which requires that properties be listed at a specific minimum price that varies from market to market. Certain services, like agent assistance and virtual tours, are only available for listings above that minimum.


Listings in Chicago, for example, have to exceed a $400,000 listing minimum for sellers and realtors to receive those supplemental services. The city's population is 30.1 percent Black, according to census data. Meanwhile, listings in the next county over, DuPage County — which census statistics record as 5.6% Black — have a $275,000 listing minimum, according to the Washington Post. The difference in the minimum prices effectively "restricted access to services and financial incentives for sellers and buyers of homes in predominantly non-white areas."

In addition to Chicago, the NFHA's two-year investigation found that "Redfin offers no services in non-white ZIP codes at a disproportionately higher rate than in white ZIP codes" in and around Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Long Island, and Newark. The lawsuit's plaintiffs called the practice a form of "digital redlining," referencing the 1930s housing practice of what the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) describes as "denying credit to residents of predominantly minority neighborhoods."

"Redfin's policies redline communities of color and will further exacerbate the racial wealth and homeownership gaps," the president of the NFHA, Lisa Rice, said in a statement. "We must ensure that all neighborhoods are treated fairly and have access to the full range of services provided by real estate companies."

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman posted a statement on the company's website in response to the lawsuit saying the company abides by the federal laws of the Fair Housing Act. "The challenge," he wrote, "is that we don't know how to sell the lowest-priced homes while paying our agents and other staff a living wage, with health insurance and other benefits."

Some changes could be on the horizon. Kelman pledged to "expand into lower-priced communities ... faster," while the National Association of Realtors just said it is considering requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion and fair housing components into their strategic plans and leadership trainings.


Experts like Green and Golding, however, say that sizable change will only come with new, equitable policies or further regulation at the local, state, and federal levels.