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People of color shouldn’t have to obliterate their presence to receive fair home values

A house for sale in Richmond, VA (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

Another case of likely racial discrimination in housing appraisals has cropped up, this time in Baltimore.

The New York Times recently reported a Black husband and wife first received an appraisal of $472,000. After they “whitewashed” their home – removing family photos and having a White colleague stand in for them as the “owner” – a second appraisal came in at $750,000. That’s nearly $300,000 more.

The process is infuriating for Black and brown families. It’s also exhausting.

Why does such bias persist? Why can’t people get what’s due?

The account of Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott is one of dozens that have gained media attention in recent years. Similar allegations have occurred in California’s Bay Area, central Indiana and Cincinnati.

“It’s very humiliating to strip yourself of your own home,” Connolly told The Times.

Appraisals often are subjective. Still, these stories suggest something more than chance is afoot.

Federal statistics show nearly 98% of property appraisers are White. The percentage, and the comments from Black homeowners, raise questions about bias. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 says it’s illegal to discriminate in appraising residences.

Homeownership is a key way to pass down wealth to future generations. When the housing industry shortchanges property value, it harms families depending on an unbiased review.

A 2018 Brookings Institution study noted that “owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average.” It studied 113 metro areas with at least one majority-Black neighborhood. In Virginia, the areas were Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Lynchburg, Richmond and Roanoke.

Not that African Americans have been able to rely on equity when it comes to housing policies.

The nation’s history is littered with racism in the market. This includes redlining, restrictive covenants and a GI Bill that in practice denied mortgages and home loans to Black veterans. Urban Renewal projects, including highways, often destroyed Black communities.

Vestiges of those decades-old policies remain today.

Isabel McLain, a research and policy analyst for Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, said Monday she didn’t have exact statistics on how often under-appraisals occurred in the state.

However, “we understand that racially biased appraisals are a systemic problem in Virginia, based on national studies that have included or reported on Virginia communities,” she noted by email.

McLain cited, for example, a Freddie Mac report released in 2021 that underscored biased devaluations. Researchers found a large portion of appraisers valued homes in majority-Black and majority-Latino neighborhoods below the contract price at rates much higher than they did for homes in majority-White neighborhoods.

“These disparities were not driven by a few appraisers but reflect widespread trends across the profession, including appraisers in Virginia,” she noted.

Blacks, Latinos – heck, everybody – just want to be treated fairly when it comes to housing. Numerous anecdotes and data indicate race in housing remains a fault line, one that hinders wealth and progress for people of color.

Veteran journalist Roger Chesley is a commentator for the Virginia Mercury, which first published this essay.

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People of color shouldn’t have to obliterate their presence to receive fair home values