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.

Update from Virginia: Medicaid expansion’s positive impacts are significant and come as no surprise

Image: AdobeStock

Veteran newspaper people in Detroit taught me the saying, “No (rhymes with spit), Sherlock,” when I was a young journalist back in the early 1980s.

The profane phrase – I can’t do it justice in a family publication – was used to refer to a headline or story stating something so obvious, so predictable, that it called into question why an editor assigned it. (Think “Gunfire leaves neighborhood shaken” or “Blizzard keeps residents home.” You get my drift.)

Such articles, though, occasionally are defensible. They prove that what politicians or community activists had predicted all along indeed came to fruition.

Which brings me to the recent Virginia Mercury story on how the expansion of Medicaid in the commonwealth under Obamacare – after years of spiteful, obstinate Republican opposition – provided financial security for adult enrollees.

The article was based on research published in the journal Health Affairs. It covered a study by lead author Hannah Shadowen, a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University. The study was prepared for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.

This research found that new Medicaid enrollees were more likely to use a doctor’s office than more expensive emergency rooms for their usual source of care. Stress decreased for nonmedical costs, including groceries and rent.

“Non-Hispanic Blacks reported a larger decrease in worries about the cost of normal healthcare after enrolling in Medicaid compared to non-Hispanic Whites,” the study found, “suggesting that Medicaid expansion was particularly meaningful for this group.”

Also, “rural members had a greater decrease in problems paying medical bills and unmet need for prescriptions in the year after enrolling in Medicaid, compared to non-rural members.”

In short, the lives of new Medicaid patients improved dramatically. That’s great for the individuals – and for the state’s image, too.

Well, duh. NSS.

Of course things got better for adults who hadn’t been in the program because of previous restrictions. Of course it’s preferable to have regular doctor visits and practice preventive care than to rush to high-priced ERs when a medical crisis hits.

The state says more than 677,000 adults have enrolled in Medicaid since expansion started in January 2019. Advocates initially believed, before the General Assembly changed course in 2018, that about 400,000 adults with incomes ranging up to 138% of the poverty line would sign up.

The issue is an indictment, too, of Republican state legislators who fought so hard, for so long, to deny access to health care to more adults. Read more

Veteran Virginia journalist on new race-based traffic stop statistics: “Do you believe us now?”

Virginia police officers pepper sprayed U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario during a traffic stop in December that resulted in a lawsuit, the firing of one officer and outcry across Virginia and elsewhere. (Image: Virginia Mercury and NBC 12)

“Do you believe us now?”

That’s what Black people are saying across Virginia about the way people of color are stopped, sweated and searched by law-enforcement officers in the state. Often based on racial profiling. Often due to nothing more than a whim.

First came the now-viral video of two Windsor patrol officers and their over-the-top encounter with a Black U.S. Army officer in December. The town fired the more-aggressive police officer — but not until the repeated airing of the incident provoked widespread outrage.

Now The Virginia Mercury’s Ned Oliver has reviewed the first six months of data covering more than 400,000 traffic stops from most police and sheriff’s departments in the commonwealth. The collection of the statistics began in July, as part of the state’s new Community Policing Act.

You could’ve easily predicted the results: Black drivers in Virginia are almost two times more likely than White drivers to be pulled over by police, and three times more likely to have their vehicles searched. Black motorists here are targeted for roadside traffic enforcement, making up 30 percent of traffic stops though they represent only 19 percent of the state’s population.

Latino drivers accounted for 9 percent of stops, Oliver reported, roughly equal to their population in Virginia. Non-Hispanic White drivers were a little less likely to pulled over, accounting for 55 percent of the stops and 61 percent of the population.

Do you believe us now?

The statistics merely confirm what lots of people of color already knew — or at the very least, accepted as a truism — every time they turned on the ignition: You have little margin for error. Even when you’re doing everything right, be wary on the road.

Not that there should’ve been any debate. Virginia isn’t so different from other states already keeping meticulous records on police stops. What’s happening here has been, sadly, repeated elsewhere.

North Carolina became the first state in the country, in 1999, to mandate collection of stats on police stops. The overall number of stops has actually decreased there over time. Yet published reports in 2020, citing a study from the N.C. Criminal Justice Analysis Center, show a racial disparity remains.

“Black drivers get stopped at more than twice the rate of White drivers,” The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported. “People of other races, and those whose race wasn’t recorded, were stopped at 1.5 times the rate of White drivers.”  Read more

Momentum to legalize marijuana continues to build…as it should

Photo- Getty Images

[Editor’s note: The following commentary by veteran Virginia journalist Roger Chesley was written after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent announcement of his intention to push for an end to marijuana prohibition in the state, but prior to today’s historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to end federal criminal penalties. It was initially published in the Virginia Mercury]

My attitudes toward America’s hypocritical — and racially biased — stance on marijuana were formed during my high school and college years in Washington. Those sentiments have only hardened since then.

I’ve revisited those days as the commonwealth now considers legalizing pot. Gov. Ralph Northam said he plans to propose legislation to do just that when the General Assembly convenes next month. Bringing sanity to cannabis laws is overdue in Virginia and many other states.

In November, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released a 274-page report weighing the benefits and drawbacks. The assessment by the state’s legislative watchdog agency noted current marijuana laws disproportionately affect African Americans and other people of color despite widespread use by other races, and how legalization could generate more than $300 million per year in tax revenues.

Boosting the state’s bottom line often sways formerly reluctant legislators, even if it means doing the (previously) unthinkable.

I understand concerns about “driving high,” underage toking (much like teen boozing), and other deleterious effects. Still, it’s way past time to treat marijuana more akin to alcohol, and to end the nonsensical incarceration of people who use it.

Drug arrests can hinder getting a job because it saddles people with criminal records. Police and prosecutors usually scoop up Blacks and Latino Americans disproportionately, by the way. That’s no surprise given race relations and criminal justice in the United States.

I came of age in the mid-to-late 1970s. I first attended mostly White, all-boys, Catholic high school a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. After graduation, I studied at Howard University, a historically Black institution that’s also in Northwest D.C.

This was at a time when the legal drinking age was under 21 in many states and Washington. So it was fairly easy for even high school students to buy beer or wine, or get someone a little older to cop it.

When I was in high school, it wasn’t uncommon to hear about classmates’ exploits – and embarrassments – from chugging too much the previous weekend. The subjects of these drink-fests were usually White.

Blacks didn’t necessarily abstain, but some of the guys I knew in my high school (and others in the area) preferred weed to beer. That might be an oversimplification, but I doubt I’m the only one who noticed it. Read more