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For many African-Americans, the dream of home ownership is still elusive. A recent report by Harvard University found that 43 percent of blacks in the U.S. own homes while more than 70 percent of whites do. That gap has widened over the past 30 years. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports from Baltimore as part of our series on the nations new housing crisis.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Devan Southerland was born and raised in Baltimore. I meet her in one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods. It's known for historic, tucked away parks and 19th century architecture.
DEVAN SOUTHERLAND: Bolton Hill is an awesome mixed community. It's just a great, quiet, kept-away spot. It's one that I appreciate and I enjoy.
BOOKER: This is one of her dream areas. Average home prices go for about $380,000. Southerland is a longtime renter and lives a few neighborhoods over. At times, the 39-year-old gets frustrated that she still does not own a home.
SOUTHERLAND: Oh, I feel like I should have more by now. Like, I got to step it up. This is crazy. Why am I not further?
BOOKER: Southerland is juggling a lot. As a legal assistant, she makes around $25,000 a year. She's raising a 10-year-old son, working on her master's degree in human services and has student loans. She's saving what she can and hopes to one day purchase here because she says Baltimore needs more black homeowners.
SOUTHERLAND: For me, I just want to be smart about it because I know that a lot of black people suffered during the whole housing crisis and the whole subprime lending issue that happened a few years ago.
BOOKER: In the run-up to the housing bubble a decade ago, black Americans were making strides getting into the ranks of homeownership - no longer, says Alanna McCargo, who studies housing trends.
ALANNA MCCARGO: There was a slight uptick in black homeownership going into those years. And since, all sort of gains that have been made we've seen have all been lost at a national level.
BOOKER: McCargo is the vice president of housing policy at the Urban Institute. Earlier this year, her organization mapped the disparities between the rates of white and black homeownership. So just how bad is it in the U.S.?
MCCARGO: Just to put it into context. If you think about the last 50 years when the Fair Housing Act was passed, the black homeownership rate today is just the same as it was in 1968.
BOOKER: When broken down by city, McCargo says some places do worse than others. Cities like Minneapolis or Albany, N.Y., have nearly 50 percentage points between white and black home ownership. Charleston, S.C., and Austin, Texas, are around 20 percentage points. But Baltimore, a city where two-thirds of the population is African-American, is right smack in the middle. The city's 31 percentage point gap mirrors the national average.
LAWRENCE BROWN: No, it's definitely not a surprise.
BOOKER: Lawrence Brown is a professor in the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Brown points to a study from 2017 that found, among other things, a large wealth gap persists in Baltimore City.
BROWN: There's really almost a twofold gap between black Baltimoreans and white Baltimoreans. That definitely contributes to a disparity in homeownership.
BOOKER: Despite having a majority black city council and five out of the last six mayors being African-American, Brown says the city in many ways remains segregated. He adds, present-day underinvestment in black neighborhoods echoes what happened in the city decades ago, the practice of redlining where neighborhoods are systematically devalued and denied financial services because of race.
BROWN: People in black communities in these redlined areas have not been able to accumulate the wealth and resources oftentimes to be able to purchase those homes. And then oftentimes when they do, they get hit with a predatory loan. So they're redlined on the front end, subprimed on the back end.
BOOKER: Experts say Baltimore's housing inventory is at its lowest point in more than a decade. That's just like the rest of the country. It may be why home prices are on the rise. Alanna McCargo, the housing expert from the Urban Institute, says closing the gap of home ownership has to be addressed on two fronts.
MCCARGO: The black homeownership problem is not just about blacks being able to purchase homes going forward.
BOOKER: She says it's equally important for blacks who own homes to stay in those homes. Rising tax rates and foreclosures are still a threat, but home ownership is the best way to transfer wealth to future generations. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Baltimore.
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