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Focal Point: How redlining is still impacting Black homebuyers

A still photo of a two-story house in Virginia Beach.
VPM News Focal Point
The historic discrimination in the U.S. housing market continues to affect Black families looking to purchase a home.

In 2022, 74.6% of white households owned their homes, compared with 45.3% of Black households.

Homeownership is one of many ways that families can build wealth. But the gap between white and Black homeownership rates are wider now than they were in 1960 — when housing discrimination was legal, as documented by U.S. Census Bureau data.

In 2022, 74.6% of white households owned their homes, compared with 45.3% of Black households. That's more than a 29-percentage-point gap.

Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against them, Carcia and Kevin Santiago are settling into a house they bought last month in Virginia Beach.

“Homes build equity over time. And that equity, either you can refinance, or you can take out a HELOC, [home equity line of credit], on a home and use that money to purchase another home,” Carcia Santiago said. “It's just the amount of money that you can build in home is very, very important.

For Carcia Santiago, who was raised in Mississippi, the importance of homeownership was passed down in her family. She said when her parents bought their first home in Byram, Mississippi, they were one of two Black families in the entire neighborhood.

“At that time, you know, my parents also sat us down. And they explained to us why that was because a lot of Black people couldn't afford homes.” Carcia Santiago said. “There was even though you would you think that redlining doesn't exist today, like we still know, a Black family can put their house on the market and then bring a white family in, you know, the house is going to appraise higher than versus the Black family.”

Historically, Black Americans have faced systemic challenges and discriminatory housing policies that have often prevented them from achieving homeownership in Virginia. Congress did not address these inequities until 1968, when it passed the Fair Housing Act. The law was intended to prevent discrimination and reverse housing segregation.

LaToya Gray-Sparks is a fourth-generation Richmonder who has researched the impact of discriminatory housing policies like urban renewal and redlining. She is also the community outreach coordinator at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“I think there are a host of historic events, policies and processes that have contributed to the disadvantage that African Americans are experiencing,” Gray-Sparks said. “When it comes to wealth and homeownership, a lot of it is rooted in redlining.”

Redlining is both a term and a practice: In the late 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created maps grading neighborhoods. It ranked them from least risky to risky — or “A” to “D.” Places labeled “D” were marked in maps signaling spaces not worthy of homeownership or lending programs. The “D” areas were often Black Americans lived.

Historically Black neighborhoods of Richmond City in 1937 colored in red, with yellow, blue and green zones in more affluent or non-Black neighborhoods.
Courtesy John Moeser
Bonner Center for Civic Engagement / University of Richmond
This Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) Map of Richmond from 1937 color-coded neighborhoods by neighborhood security — a practice known as redlining.

Richmond’s Harland Bartholomew, the first citywide master planner, labeled places where Black Americans lived as “blighted” and “obsolete,” making way for slum clearance.

Gray-Sparks said learning about redlining as an adult made her realize that the geographies where she grew up in Richmond were geographies of isolation by deliberately limiting access to opportunities.

“I think that's what's so awful about Bartholomew and his work. And the redlining maps. They classified places based on the skin color of the people that lived in those spaces,” Gray-Sparks said. “And that contributed to displacement and disruption and instability which, you know, plays an impact on wealth generation or the ability to do that.”

Now Gray-Speaks makes her own maps to reclaim the narrative. Her award-winning maps, Planned Destruction and The Reconstructing Randolph Project, are focused on Richmond.

“I think that's what led to just this deep dive into Black neighborhoods within Richmond and finding that the places that were declared to be blighted, weren't blighted at all,” Gray-Sparks said. “There were streetscapes that existed that could rival what we see here in the Fan or Museum District, but they're no longer around because they were demolished to make way for a highway or whatever other project the city was interested in.”

Damon Harris, co-founder of Teal House Company in Richmond, is working on righting some of those wrongs.

Harris said his company is committed to reducing displacement, restoring equity and finding ways to increase homeownership rates because redlining and discrimination still affect aspiring homeowners.

“In 2023, the Black homeownership rate is the same as it was in [the] early ’60s, almost identical in certain areas. [That] was pre–Civil Rights Act. And so, what we see [is] great gap of almost 40% in certain communities.” 

To increase Black homeownership, Teal House Company offers services like a co-buying program and ethical home selling.

But Harris said Black millennials are contributing to the rise in Black homeownership rates now.

“The access to information is so much greater, not just information on process and strategies, but information on a historical context of the importance of homes and millennials that we're looking to build,” Harris said. “They're looking to build more community that's inclusive and as following their beliefs of how they feel communities should be.”

Carcia Santiago agrees.

“It's really homeownership that you're going to be able to build that equity and again, a generational wealth, I feel like we always come back to that generational wealth, wealth,” she said. “But that's the goal, right?”

VPM News Focal Point airs on VPM PBS on Thursdays at 8 p.m.

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