The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

Homes line Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chicago. King called the city’s housing movement “the first step in a thousand-mile journey.”
Homes line Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chicago. King called the city’s housing movement “the first step in a thousand-mile journey.”
Image: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
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Two years into the housing recovery, and a half-century since Martin Luther King fought for racial equality, it’s clear that homeownership doesn’t treat everyone the same.

While millions of homeowners of all races were affected by the burst of the housing bubble, from losing their homes to foreclosure or finding themselves in negative equity, many areas nationwide are now firmly in recovery as home values inch back toward peak levels. But that trend isn’t universal: neighborhoods that are predominantly black or Hispanic continue to lag behind today.

According to research from Zillow, home values in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods are down significantly from their peaks—by 23.3% and 32.6%, respectively. The recovery has been kinder to white and Asian neighborhoods, though, which are down 13.4% and 0.6%, respectively.

Zillow dug into these and other issues in a report called “A House Divided: How Race Colors the Path to Homeownership.” What quickly became clear was that, from the beginning to the end of the path to homeownership, experiences vary widely among races. Despite making up 12% of the US population, blacks make up only 2% of all successful mortgage applicants. Hispanics, who make up 17.3% of the population, make up 4.5% of successful mortgage applicants. By contrast, whites and Asians are overrepresented in the pool of successful mortgage applicants.

A lot of these differences along the path to homeownership can be attributed to differences in education level, credit scores, and income among the races; blacks and Hispanics have a lower average income than whites and Asians, and blacks and Hispanics who apply for a mortgage are much more likely to have a lower credit score. Asians are more likely than the other races to achieve a higher level of education, which contributes to higher incomes. It’s especially troubling that, even after successfully jumping the hurdles along the path to homeownership, buyers in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods don’t realize the same returns as those who buy in white and Asian neighborhoods. This has enormous implications since, for many Americans, homes represent retirement savings and collateral for college loans, as well as somewhere to rest their heads at night.

Differences in education levels, credit scores, and incomes are root causes that can’t be addressed by housing policy alone, or the market as a whole. But they’re very real problems, which demand creative, collaborative solutions from all political and social spectrums. For its part, Zillow will host a meeting with on Jan. 22 with various stakeholders, including the National Urban League and federal housing officials, and will live stream the meeting here.