U.S. fair housing laws passed in the 1960s and ‘70s were supposed to help bring racial parity to a housing market that since its beginning confined Black homebuyers to the cheapest forms of housing in the most undesirable neighborhoods. But since those laws were passed, the disparity in the appraised values between homes in majority-white and predominantly non-white neighborhoods has widened dramatically, according to a new study.
This disparity can’t be fully explained by past racially discriminatory practices in the real estate industry, such as redlining, conclude University of Pittsburgh sociologist Junia Howell and University of New Mexico sociologist Elizabeth Korver-Glenn. Instead, standard modern appraisal practices used since the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 continue to perpetuate and exacerbate differences in how homes are valued in neighborhoods of color compared to white neighborhoods.
For decades, research has shown that houses in predominantly Black neighborhoods have been generally appraised at lower values than houses in majority-white neighborhoods. This is true even when comparing housing stocks that have the same characteristics (age, square footage, number of rooms, etc.) and neighborhoods of equal socioeconomic status.
The new study finds that the racial composition of a neighborhood was an even "stronger determinant" of a home's appraised value in 2015 than it was in 1980, to Black homeowners’ increasing disadvantage. Analyzing reported home values, Howell and Korver-Glenn found that the race appraisal gap has doubled since 1980: The difference in average home appraisals between neighborhoods that are majority-white and those that are predominantly Black and Latina was $164,000 in 2015, up from about $86,000 in 1980.
Rather than explaining the racial inequity as a vestige of historic segregation, the study finds more culpability in a method used to calculate appraisals today, the “sales comparison approach,” which determines a home’s appraised value by looking at the prices of other similar homes that were recently sold from the same neighborhood. The real estate industry sees this as a race-neutral way of appraising homes so that it doesn’t run afoul of fair housing laws, and it is one of the key criteria used for determining property values. But what makes this method problematic, according to the study, is that it basically grandfathers in racist home pricing that existed before fair housing legislation.
In other words, if an appraiser is calculating the value of a home in a Black neighborhood by comparing it to houses recently sold around it, then chances are she is comparing it to other Black-owned houses that, because of the legacy of segregation, have handicapped values in the market compared to similar homes in white communities appraised at higher prices. The unfairly valued prices of homes in Black neighborhoods before the 1970s thus serves as the baseline for how homes are appraised and priced today. While the Fair Housing Act and Community Reinvestment Act forbade practices like redlining and denying mortgage loans based on race, they did nothing to readjust housing prices in segregated neighborhoods after they were passed.