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Racial Disparities In Housing Have Wide Ranging Effects, Midstate Advocates Say

housing_real_estate_sale_home_ownership_gene_j_puskar_ap.jpg
Gene J. Puskar
/
AP
This is a sale pending sign on a home in Mount Lebanon, Pa., on April 27, 2020.

The death of George Floyd in Minnesota this past May sparked conversations about racial justice around the county. Some of the dialog has centered around systemic racism in institutions like housing.

As part of WITF’s Toward Racial Justice series of conversations, Harrisburg realtor Beck Joyner described housing as the great equalizer. She said buying a home provides a family with security and the ability to create a nest egg for future generations.

According to the US Census Bureau, homeownership among white people was more than 72 percent in 2017, while it was only 42 percent for Black people.

Joyner pointed to systemic racism in the housing processes that has excluded many Black families from that opportunity.

“Once white folks where able to get into those homes, and we were denied. You know that’s when the racial gap and the wealth gap begin to open up because the equity in those homes begin to grow over the years,” Joyner said.

One of the key roots of the disparity is a practice known as redlining, when the government or those in the private sector, avoid offering loans or insurance for people living in certain areas.

Although such discriminatory practices are now illegal, the effects are still seen today, according to Angela McIver, Executive Director at Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania. People also work to find other, more subtle ways of perpetuating the cycle. She noted the practice of “steering” contributes to ongoing segregation in many neighborhoods.

“If someone is interested in renting or owning a home, it is possible they will be steered to certain communities, you could start out saying ‘I want to go to this zip code,’ but they’ll tell you, ‘Actually, you may be happier in a different zip code,’” McIver said.

Joyner said these issues can compound themselves. When demand for housing in an area is low, property values will decrease and that in turn, can affect other elements of the area — like schools.

“It’s like this cyclical effect. The ‘better school districts,’ if you will, the good school districts, have over inflated values. The affordability factor is really tied into demand,” Joyner explained.

Charles Ellison, the moderator of the Toward Racial Justice series and a host at WURD in Philadelphia, described housing as a phantom issue. He said it can be difficult to explain to people who are not experiencing the bias and discrimination.

“It’s a series of slow ripple effects that takes place over years, decades, many generations. So, it’s a slow-moving gradual death,” Ellison said.

Some have pointed to government programs like public housing as having already addressed racial disparities in housing. But Angela McIver said such programs address the symptoms but not the root of the problem.

“I am a firm believer that anytime people who are impacted who are a part of the conversation, they figure out how to resolve these issues, but with those voices are silence, you’ll see those issues go on and on and one,” she said.

McIver said she is hopeful the increased focus on racial equity this summer, following the death of George Floyd, may be the opportunity to implement meaningful reform the housing system.

Read more from our partners, WITF.