What we know for sure is that financial inequality for Black women compared to other groups is a systemic issue and requires across-the-board transformation of our systems. Home ownership is a primary example of how funders and advocates miss the mark when identifying the problem and, in turn, propose solutions that really don’t work.
Home ownership has been an effective strategy for white wealth building. However, white people have been able to build wealth through home ownership because our housing industry was built to benefit them — and only them. The history of anti-Black U.S. housing policies lets us know that without system-level change, Black women will never be able to reap the benefits of home ownership as their white counterparts do.
The racism that infuses the housing industry is now well-known. The real estate industry has, at different points in history, excluded Black people from home ownership and used predatory practices to deny loans to Black residents. It’s called redlining: a practice of disinvestment and declining values in certain neighborhoods that kept many Black people out of the growing housing market and stuck in poverty. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers knew Black women had limited options and assumed they would likely default on their mortgages.
Lower Black home ownership and the racial wealth gap are consequences of systemic racism, coupled with the legacies of slavery and policies that targeted Black people and predominantly Black neighborhoods. These things are real hurdles and have had a lasting effect on Black people within the housing industry. Then there is the extra element of sexism that makes achieving home ownership for Black women even more difficult.
As the Great Depression began, only 20 percent of the Black population owned homes. In the 1990s, single Black women were doing well and emerged as a significant group of home buyers. They outpaced single white women and men by the early 2000s. By then the overall Black home ownership rate reached nearly 50 percent, with more than half of that made up by Black women.
But when the housing crisis swept through in 2007, the economy unraveled and Black women were hit the hardest, losing nearly 40 percent of their wealth, compared to only 10 percent for white women.
Home ownership is supposedly the American Dream. Yet, I think about how the homes that were once fixtures and symbols of the American dream have now become the grounds of gentrification and urban development. The truth is that home ownership is more than just owning a home. It’s about laying a foundation for building generational wealth, just like my grandparents ingrained in us. It’s also a base for family and financial security. So, that’s why it’s absolutely worth striving for.
Black women are disadvantaged as homeowners due to stigma and structural racism. The challenges are even greater for transgender women. Oftentimes, women have lower incomes, fewer assets, and greater debts, which can lower their likelihood of being approved for loans or getting the best loan terms. Although women are typically better about paying their mortgages, they often face higher interest rates than men and are subject to predatory lending practices.
When women, especially Black women, accomplish something on their own, it tends to get downplayed or not taken seriously; it’s an unimaginable feat. The media began to celebrate female home ownership as a form of empowerment or self-care. The Washington Post even described it as satisfying a “female urge,” comparing it to a biological clock.
Women, in general, were refused mortgages until 1974 when legislation was put in place to prohibit it from happening. To make matters worse, it took nearly ten years for the Supreme Court to rule that unclassified women are legally subordinate to their husbands in terms of property ownership and control.
We should take care to understand that home ownership is a mixed bag for Black women. Without safeguards, there is no guarantee that Black women will have the opportunity to benefit from being homeowners or that home ownership will be an effective means to decrease the racial wealth gap.
Black women aren’t waiting for the traditional family unit or marriage to move forward with purchasing a home. One of the main reasons is that, despite disparities, we’re more educated and make more money than we ever have. We don’t have to wait, because we can do it ourselves. We recognize the great financial investment that it is and the value it adds to a portfolio. So, one income it is. We expect to be treated fairly and equally through the home buying process and achieve our portion of the dream.
The American dream looks different, depending on who you ask. As a Black woman, owning a home is investing in my story and creating generational wealth for my family. The indelible history that is woven into Black people is foundational to our families, communities, and an economy that benefits from our buying power.
June is National Homeownership Month which promotes the benefits of home ownership and commits to creating opportunities for future homeowners. This month, search for local forums in your city that bring together experts to talk about the state of housing. Learn about the National Association of Realtors’ work with the Biden administration and Congress on solutions to address housing supply and affordability constraints that affect us all.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.