The Color of Real Estate

African Americans losing out, while other racial groups make progress in homeownership

By Traci Grant
|  Thursday, Feb 11, 2010  |  Updated 5:30 PM PDT
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The Color of Real Estate

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A sign of the times, but not for African Americans in the Bay Area.

UCLA'S Anderson Economic Forecast proclaims that the real estate market appears to be bouncing back.

The fact that home prices are finally rising in 40 percent of the country seems to support that. But not everyone in the Bay Area is celebrating.

Homes may be more affordable right now and regaining their value, but brand-new statistics show that few of them are ending up in the hands of African Americans.

“There has been a practice of, I would say respectfully, racism,” said Rev. Amos Brown of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.

The results of this study of Census figures and information analyzed by a real-estate information service called MDA Dataquick demonstrate that while Bay Area Asians and Latinos have progressed in terms of homeownership, African-American homeownership has decreased significantly over the last decade.

“[Owning a home] gives a sense of pride, a sense of ownership and a sense of place," Brown said.

But Brown said, through the NAACP and his work as pastor of Third Baptist Church in the Western Addition District, he regularly sits down with people who tell him painful stories about their quest for the American dream becoming a nightmare full of racial roadblocks.

He said he recently had to step in when a senior citizen, just a signature away from finally owning her own home, was told her bank had doubled the agreed-upon interest rate.

"She was very upset, very upset and then for the people to deny anything wrong had been done initially,” Brown said. “But when we pressed the point, they changed their tune."

Brown is not the only one who believes these latest homeownership statistics are not surprising.

"It's really discouraging that we're not making progress," said Myrna Melgar, director of Homeownership programs for the Mayor's Office of Housing. "It's heartwrenching."

Melgar said progress would mean that all minority homeownership was increasing, not just Asians and Latinos, although the gains of those groups should be applauded.

Melgar said it's caused by much more than foreclosures.

According to Melgar, one thing to remember is that the Latino and Asian population in the Bay Area has increased over the last ten years, while African Americans continue to migrate out of this expensive region.

Asians now make up 30 percent of the population in San Francisco.

She also says the much-maligned practice of predatory lending hasn't decreased as much for African Americans as it has for other groups.

Brown says some cities have affordable-housing lottery programs designed to help minorities buy homes. But, in the end, it's a matter of basic math.

"Our numbers are so small," Brown said. "Consequently, at the door, African Americans are losers."

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