For many, owning a home is part of the American Dream. But for many families of color, it’s something that will stay just a dream.
Black families in King County are more than 50% less likely to own their homes compared to white families, according to data shared by King County. Lawmakers and leaders say systemic racism is the root of the problem and they are taking steps to address it.
Shavon Jones lived in Central District with her husband and five kids, but, a few years ago, circumstances suddenly changed.
“I went through getting a divorce and having a not-so-great relationship for me and the kids. So it was kind of an immediate thing where we had to up and move,” Jones said.
Jones had – and has – a steady job with decent pay, but suddenly found herself priced out of her neighborhood.
“Seattle is astronomical,” Jones said. “It’s so unaffordable,” she said.
They wound up in a small Maple Valley apartment. The kids had to commute by public transit to school in Seattle – two hours each way.
“We had to wake up, get on the taxi. We would take the shuttle to the Renton Transit Center, then we’d take the bus. It was a lot for the morning,” said Anthanaysha Jones, who goes to Garfield High School.
Lawmakers like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal know how deep the problem runs. Jayapal spoke about the issue during a housing inequity webinar, hosted by Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County and moderated by KIRO7′s Tracey Leong.
“We are a country that has never dealt with our legacy of institutionalized racism, anti-blackness, white supremacy,” Jayapal said. “And the ways institutions were created specifically created to keep black folks out,” Jayapal said.
Linda Taylor with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle said that’s a fight she faces every day.
“Systemic racism plays a huge part – a huge part,” Taylor said.
In King County, 62% of White households are home owners. Compared to 58% for Asian households, 39% for Native American, 34% for Latinx and 28% for Black households.
“I have to take it back to red lining, when African Americans and people of color couldn’t buy in certain neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “And I’d like it to bring it up to right now – where they’re just discovering things we’ve already known. They’re devaluing African American homes in appraisals,” she said.
Taylor gave the example of what an interracial couple experienced just a few months ago, which was reported by the New York Times. When the white husband had the home appraised alone with all signs of his Black family removed, the house got valued $135,000 dollars higher.
“That’s building our generational wealth,” Taylor said.
A study by Brookings looked at neighborhoods that are more than 50% black and found, “homes in black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses.”
Jones said that when she was looking for housing she would change her voice on the phone.
“When you make phone calls, if you sound like you’re a black person, people get that and it’s like –
‘No it’s rented.’ You can call back from somebody who doesn’t have such a whatever voice, and you might get a different response,” Jones said. “You have to put you white voice on,” she said.
Lawmakers, students, families — all agree systemic racism is one big piece of the housing problem.
But even if all racial biases could be washed away (and that’s an impossible “if”) – in the Seattle area, there just aren’t enough homes at prices most families can afford – especially families of color.
“Here, we’ve never had anybody in our family that was able to own something. For me, I just wanted so badly to be able to give my kids something, so they can change the way life may be. I wanted it so badly, but I never thought this was attainable,” Jones said.
Habitat for Humanity is one non-profit working to fight that.
It gets subsidies from the City of Seattle – $80,000 to $100,000 per property – and builds homes through volunteer work, with a lot of help from the family.
Only one in four families who complete the application process get selected.
Fortunately, Jones’s family was one of them. Today she is a homeowner.
“I was so happy I had my own room — like oh my gosh,” Anthanaysha said.
“Habitat definitely made a dream for me and my family come true,” Jones said.
Seattle and King County are investing millions of dollars to expand affordable home ownership programs.
Sound Transit recently transferred 1.6 acres of land in the Rainier Valley to the City of Seattle – that space will be used to build 150 affordable townhomes and condos.
The city also has a new “Equitable Development Initiative” to “reduce race-based disparities, advance equity, and combat displacement” – an effort to make sure new construction doesn’t push out communities of color.
Jayapal has also introduced a bill called “The Housing is a Human Right Act” in Congress to keep roofs over people’s heads during the pandemic – where communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.