The ‘Heartbreaking’ Decrease in Black Homeownership

Go Erie and The Washington Post

Homeownership among blacks has been on the decline in the US since 2004.

Vanessa Bulnes and her husband, Richard, bought their house on 104th Avenue in East Oakland, California, in 1992.

The modest two-bedroom property is where they lived for 20 years, raising three children, and where Vanessa made a living running an in-home day-care center. Neighbors in the mostly African-American community often saw her planting vegetables in the backyard, with her kids in tow.

After Richard had a stroke in 2008, reducing the couple to a single income, they fell behind on their mortgage and eventually lost their home to foreclosure. A years-long legal effort to refinance the loan on the property failed, and in 2012, the couple were forced to move into a nearby rental home, where they live today.

The Bulneses’ plight echoes one that plagued many American families in the wake of the housing collapse, when foreclosure rates soared. But black families were hit particularly hard, housing data show, forcing many out of their homes and pushing black homeownership rates to record lows.

On the Bulneses’ six-block street alone, at least 35 properties were foreclosed between January 2006 and December 2012, according to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), an advocacy group for low-income communities of color.

“We thought the banks were in the business of helping people, but they really didn’t seem to care at all,″ said Vanessa, 60, who is now active in her community helping others fend off foreclosure. “The whole thing was a very heartbreaking experience.”

In 2004, the pinnacle of homeownership in the United States, nearly half of all African-American families owned a home, according to census data.

The record figure, fueled by the housing boom of the early 2000s, was still one-third less than housing rates for whites. But it was widely viewed as a milestone for a minority group that spent generations largely shut out of a fundamental pillar of the American Dream.

Yet, over the past decade, the real estate fortunes for African-Americans have reversed course. Despite a strengthening economy, including record low unemployment and higher wages for black workers, homeownership levels for that group have dropped incrementally almost every year since 2004.

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