Housing’s Impact on the Black-White Wealth Gap in the USA: Economic
Structural Violence through Housing
For nearly a century, discriminatory housing and tax policies have greatly shaped the expanding wealth gap between white and Black Americans. Today, the BlackQuaker Project will break down several of the specific policies and phenomena that have eroded the value of properties in historically Black communities and thereby prevented African Americans from generating wealth through homeownership. We note below six major forms of Housing/Economic Structural Violence perpetrated against Black Americans: redlining, gentrification, urban renewal = Black removal, limited municipal resources, home devaluation, and the tax gap.
Historically, redlining allowed banks to deny mortgages in certain areas deemed a “financial risk,” marked in red on local maps for lenders. These areas were usually predominantly African American, preventing Black families from purchasing homes. These practices survive in all but name today and continue to prevent Black Americans from receiving mortgages in their home neighborhoods.
Gentrification describes the process of white families moving into historically Black neighborhoods, causing housing costs in the area to skyrocket. As prices increase, Black families are pushed out of their neighborhood into poorer areas with lower rents, and the original neighborhood loses its Black community. Developers contribute to the problem by tearing down older, more affordable homes and rebuilding more expensive housing, increasing rent even more for the surrounding houses. Historically, redlining allowed banks to deny mortgages in certain areas deemed a “financial risk,” marked in red on local maps for lenders. These areas were usually predominantly African American, preventing Black families from purchasing homes. These practices survive in all but name today and continue to prevent Black Americans from receiving mortgages in their home neighborhoods.
Urban Renewal = Black Removal
Urban renewal describes the process of tearing down Black neighborhoods and business districts to create interstate highways and luxury housing. The razing of Black communities leaves African Americans dispossessed of their homes, businesses, and communities.
Limited Municipal Resources in Black Neighborhoods
Areas with high Black populations, including redlined areas, often experience a lack of municipal investment as well. Predominantly Black neighborhoods are deprived of critical resources and public infrastructure, including accessible public transportation, reliable sanitation services, affordable housing, and funding for public schools.
When purchasing a home, Black homeowners often experience an immediate devaluation of their property. If more than 10 percent of a homeowner’s neighbors are Black, their property’s value will continue to decline. Their home value decreases at an even steeper rate if the percentage of Black neighbors is higher. As a result, Black homeowners are often forced to sell their homes at a fraction of what they originally paid, preventing the accumulation of generational wealth in Black families.
Not only is it much more difficult for Black families to purchase homes, but the current US tax code penalizes Black homeowners for the devaluation of their homes. Today, up to $500,000 dollars tax-free is available to homeowners who sell their homes at a gain, but homeowners selling at a loss must pay taxes on the lost home value. Due to the unequal devaluation of Black-owned homes, this prevents the accumulation of generational wealth in Black families.
All six forms of housing structural violence contribute to and help maintain a staggering wealth gap between African Americans and white Americans today. Owning a home is one of the main ways to accumulate and pass on generational wealth within a family. Currently, the average white family has eight times the wealth of a Black family -- in Boston, the median wealth of a white household is nearly $250,000, but the median wealth of a Black family is only $8.
The BlackQuaker Project believes that active anti-violence is the solution to forms of systemic violence. We wish to note an example of a Quaker Meeting for Worship paying special attention to housing inequities as a way of attacking suburban racial discrimination, segregation, and systemic economic violence: Wellesley Friends Meeting’s Quaker Action for Racial Equality. We wish them well.
Which forms of Housing Structural Violence have you seen in your neighborhood? What have been your experiences renting or purchasing a home? Were you familiar with any of these phenomena? Please comment below or write to us at email@example.com with your comments and questions.
The above statistics were drawn from Dorothy A. Brown’s The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans--and How We Can Fix It (2021) and Steven S. Rogers’ A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues: What You Can Do Right Now to Help the Black Community (2021).
To learn more about the various forms of Structural Violence affecting African Americans, please read our Pendle Hill pamphlet, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives by Harold D. Weaver, Jr. (Pendle Hill Press, Wallingford PA, 2020).
-- The BlackQuaker Project