Here’s the thing about systemic racism: It’s everywhere. It manifests itself in nearly every aspect of the world Black people have to navigate. Systemic racism in policing is the hot topic right now, but the same implicit and explicit bias that causes the extrajudicial executions of Black suspects by law enforcement—not to mention the same anti-Blackness that gets Black men longer prison sentences than white men who commit the same crimes—also creates an environment where Black people are likely to experience discrimination in employment, education and in the housing market.
An interracial couple in Jacksonville, Fla., found out in July just how discriminatory practices in the housing market can be when the appraisal on their home came in more than $100,000 below expectations one day, and then 40 percent higher on another day. The difference between the two appraisals? The first was done while a Black woman was at the house while the other was done while her white husband was home.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Abena and Alex Horton recalled the story of the original appraisal they received for their four-bedroom, four-bath ranch-style house—which the couple decided to have done so they could take advantage of low home-refinance rates brought on by the pandemic—and the experiment they decided to put on involving the second appraisal they had done on their home.
“My heart kind of broke,” Abena told the Times. “I know what the issue was. And I knew what we needed to do to fix it, because in the Black community, it’s just common knowledge that you take your pictures down when you’re selling the house. But I didn’t think I had to worry about that with an appraisal.”
From the Times:
The Hortons live just minutes from the Ortega River, in a predominantly white neighborhood of 1950s homes that tend to sell for $350,000 to $550,000. They had expected their home to appraise for around $450,000, but the appraiser felt differently, assigning a value of $330,000. Ms. Horton, who is Black, immediately suspected discrimination.
The couple’s bank agreed that the value was off and ordered a second appraisal. But before the new appraiser could arrive, Ms. Horton, a lawyer, began an experiment: She took all family photos off the mantle. Instead, she hung up a series of oil paintings of Mr. Horton, who is white, and his grandparents that had been in storage.
“We took down all pictures of African-American greats that we display to inspire our son,” Abena wrote in a July Facebook post. “Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison came down from the bookshelves; Shakespeare went up. My son and I took a convenient shopping trip during the appraisal, leaving my white male husband to show the appraiser around, alone.” She also mentioned that the original appraiser “came by and he was immediately unpleasant - making one rude comment after another. He expressed exaggerated surprise when he saw me working at my home office during the walk-through.”
Predictably, the couple’s second appraisal went differently. With Alex left home alone to guide the new appraiser through the walk-through of the couple’s house, the value of their home was put at $465,000.
The Hortons’ story is far from anecdotal.
As if the practice of redlining in America doesn’t continue to do enough damage in keeping Black people from getting mortgages altogether, a 2018 report published by researchers for Gallup and the Brookings Institution highlighted the systematic devaluation of Black-owned property in the U.S. and showed “owner-occupied homes in black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses.”
Andre Perry, one of the authors of the Brookings Institution report, said those discriminatory practices extend to Black homeowners in majority-white neighborhoods.
“We still see Black people as risky,” Perry said, the Times reports. “White appraisers carry the same attitudes and beliefs of white America—the same attitudes that compelled Derek Chauvin to kneel casually on the neck of George Floyd are shared by other professionals in other fields. How does that choking out of America look in the appraisal industry? Through very low appraisals.”
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