For Black Homeowners, Great Recession has not Receded

By Freddie Allen

Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Most economists agree that the Great Recession, sparked by the housing market crash, officially ended in 2009, but the fallout from the crisis will continue to hurt Black families, especially Black homeowners, for decades to come, according to a new report commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“In 2007, median wealth excluding home equity was $14,200 for blacks as compared with over six times that amount, $92,950, for whites. Home equity, therefore, made up 51 percent of total wealth for the typical white homeowner in 2007. For the typical black homeowner this same year, on the other hand, home equity constituted a far larger 71 percent of total wealth.”

The report continued: “The fact that blacks hold the bulk of their wealth in home equity likely explains, at least in part, why black wealth, on a percentage basis, declined more than white wealth during the housing bust and subsequent Great Recession.

The report conducted by the Social Science Research Council found that even though Black families and White families lost wealth during the Great Recession, White families lost less and recovered faster than Black families.

White wealth levels, excluding home equity, showed signs of recovery between 2009 and 2011, measuring zero losses, while 40 percent of non-home-equity wealth held by the average Black family evaporated during the same period.

And while the typical Black family shed another 13 percent of their non-home-equity wealth, from 2009-2011, White families, on average, saw their home-equity wealth losses “slow to zero.”

“Not only were Black homeowners devastated by the housing market collapse, they are now being left behind,” said Rachel Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “It is very much a tale of two recoveries.”

The report said that between 2007 and 2009, the average White family lost 9 percent of the equity in their homes, compared to average Black homeowner who experienced a 12 percent fall in home equity.

“This disparity may stem from the fact that blacks were more exposed to predatory loans and other types of toxic mortgages and ballooning interest rates as compared to whites, leading to disparate rates of delinquency and foreclosure,” the report said.

Over the next two years, that slide in home equity would shrink to 2 percent for White families and 6 percent for Black homeowners. Further, these losses slowed to only 2 percent between 2009 and 2011 for White households, but for Blacks, home equity values continued to decline by 6 percent.

“While White home equity began to recover quickly after the housing crisis stabilized, this was not the case for Blacks,” the report said. “This difference likely emerges as a result of Blacks’ disproportionate exposure to predatory loans and other deceptive mortgage schemes.”

The Great Recession had a profound impact on the course of Black wealth and the racial wealth gap in the United States. Researchers predicted that, without the Great Recession, the ratio of White to Black median wealth would have decreased “from 4.4 times greater in 1999 to four times greater by 2031.” Instead the gap will widen and the average White family’s wealth is predicted to be 4.5 times greater than the average Black families wealth.

“By 2031, White wealth is forecast to be 31 percent below what it would have been without the Great Recession, while Black wealth is down almost 40 percent,” stated the report. “For a typical Black family, median wealth in 2031 will be almost $98,000 lower than it would have been without the Great Recession.”

Researchers also indicated that the home equity values the adult children of Black families that took losses during the recession will also suffer.

“Without the Great Recession, by 2050, home equity values for Blacks and Whites whose parents or grandparents owned a home at some point between 1999 and 2011 may have approached parity,” the report said. “As a result of discriminatory lending practices and the Great Recession, our analysis suggests that the next generations of Black families will still have home equity values only 70 percent of their white counterparts.”

Citing a joint study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury Department, the ACLU study noted that, “as of 2000, ‘borrowers in Black neighborhoods [were] five times as likely to refinance in the subprime market than borrowers in White neighborhoods,’ even when controlling for income.”

When Bank of America bought Countrywide Financial in 2008, the bank’s track record of troubling mortgage-lending practices and a discrimination case came with the deal. In 2011, Bank of America settled the case with the Justice Department for $355 million. The Department alleged that Countrywide had engaged in “discriminatory mortgage lending practices against more than 200,000 qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers from 2004 through 2008.”

In 2012, the Justice Department settled a fair lending case with Wells Fargo Bank, over allegations that the financial institution, “engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending from 2004 through 2009,” a statement for the Justice Department said.

Investigators also found that minorities were steered into subprime mortgage loans at higher rates than similarly qualified White borrowers.

The settlement included $184.3 million for minority borrowers and another $50 million in resources for direct down payments to help residents living in communities hit the hardest during the housing crash.

But it’s going to take more than settlement money to help Black homeowners guided into subprime mortgages, who were crushed during the housing market crisis as they continue you struggle almost six years after the end of the recession.

In the press release about the report, Sarah Burd-Sharps, the co-director of the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project, said that, “Steps can be taken right now to help close the growing racial wealth divide, and to ensure that the next generation has the benefits of assets and savings that bring a more secure future.”

The report recommended that policymakers closely monitor current lending practices at banks to protect low-income and minority borrowers from discrimination. The report also suggested that lawmakers clarify legislation governing access to credit and that they give regulators more power to guard consumers against racially disparate practices in servicing mortgage loans.

Goodman concluded: “This study makes clear that the devastating impact of the financial crisis on Black families’ wealth will continue until policymakers address this pressing issue.”

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