Many Americans build generational wealth through their homes.
People move to the best neighborhoods they can afford with the best schools. These neighborhoods generally have less crime and more amenities.
Wealthier parents have the income and the ability to provide extras to their public schools. Often, the wealth from their homes can be tapped with equity loans and second mortgages and finally income passed along to the children.
Black Americans have been intentionally shut out from the best neighborhoods over the years as “redlining” prevented them from buying homes in the best neighborhoods and real estate agents steered Black families away.
Urban renewal often split Black communities in two, increasing the fall in real estate values.
Even if there is less of that discrimination taking place today, the impact of that generational theft is still being felt, wrote Andre Perry, author of the book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Prosperity in America’s Black Cities.”
As urban areas are redeveloped, the lessons of the past need to be relearned. For instance, development along mass transit lines needs to include the needs of the Black residents. That means involving Black residents as full participants in projects.
The great economic surge that took place after World War II did not help many Black people, still living under the restrictions of segregation in the South.
“Black veterans were stifled from taking advantage of the housing provisions of the GI Bill,” Perry wrote.
Perry referred to research that shows the value of homes in Black-majority neighborhoods is $156 billion lower than their equivalent values in similar white neighborhoods. After controlling for housing, neighborhood quality, education and crime, comparable homes in neighborhoods with similar amenities were worth 23% less in Black neighborhoods.
Owner-occupied homes were worth about $43,000 less on average. Perry called this a kind of “Black tax” on residents of Black-majority neighborhoods.
Besides lowering wealth, the devaluation of housing reduces opportunities for Black residents for education, jobs and recreation.
“Devaluation leads to disinvestment, which leads to people moving out; social services decline and crime and unemployment rise,” Perry wrote.
What are some of the solutions? Perry writes that redevelopment in Black neighborhoods needs to be sensitive to African-American culture to avoid the perils of gentrification.
If long-term renters had access to low-interest mortgages, then home ownership could be improved in Black neighborhoods. Another possibility involves micro loans for maintenance.
In 1943, W.E.B. DuBois recommended these crime reduction strategies: employment at a livable wage, the eradication of illiteracy by 1980, universal health care and eliminating unemployment.
Education has long been the way most Americans improve their fortunes.
As Perry wrote, “Schools that have drinking fountains that give clean water, proper climate controls, comfortable seating, up-to-date technology and a solid roof send a firm statement about how much a community cares. Conversely, when the roof leaks and classrooms are inadequately heated, a community senses they aren’t valued.”
Schools are more than centers of education. They are community anchors. They send a message about how much a community cares about its residents and their future.
Improving schools could be just a start to broader neighborhood improvements, using incentive programs like Opportunity Zones to lift up every resident to a bright future.
This editorial was originally published by the Florida-Times Union in Jacksonville.
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