New report sheds light on racism in Richmond housing prices: 'It is a struggle in Black communities'

Posted at 5:58 PM, May 30, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- A new report from Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) showed racism accounted for a 17% disparity in the value of homes with equal amenities in white neighborhoods versus homes in Black neighborhoods. The Richmond nonprofit group that works to make city housing policy fair for all said the gap was also a major reason why traditionally Black communities are fading away.

One Richmond-area homeowner told me it all made sense to her.

"My father and most of my aunts and uncles grew up here," said Angelyn Scott, pointing to the house behind her. "So this house has been in the family for about 75 years."

Scott is trying to maintain a family tradition in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood.

"This home was always a place, a hub, where family could come gather when anything is going wrong," said Scott. "When anything's going right. You know, we come here, we eat, we celebrate. We gather here. This is the homestead for us and our family."

But she said her effort to restore her family home is up against some powerful forces, starting with the city's demands, which she said suddenly put her house in the delinquent property program.

"The city said, 'Well, the house isn't being occupied right now. We suggest that you put up boards on your windows and doors,'" said Scott. "And so, after we put these boards up on the windows and doors, we immediately get this letter saying, 'Oh, because you have boards on your windows and doors, you're now in this program that you didn't choose to be in.'"

Bureaucracy is one thing, but according to HOME, a larger more sinister force is at work and has been for decades.

"If you strip away all the factors that you would think about when it comes to housing price, race is still a predominant factor in determining what the value is of that house," said Tom Fitzpatrick, Home's Executive Director.

Fitzpatrick points out the average home in a majority Black neighborhood in Richmond is worth 17 less than one in a neighborhood with identical opportunities, but where the population is less than one percent Black.

That reality makes the lower home values in traditionally Black communities - notably Church Hill, Randolph, or Highland Park- susceptible to outside buyers who can essentially price older families out of their traditional homesteads.

"We're very concerned that in those specific neighborhoods, there has been displacement of Black residents," Fitzpatrick said. "And in some of them, up to 45% of Black residents that live in those neighborhoods, no longer live there 10 years later."

That pressure on families is something Scott is acutely aware of, pointing out that in the back and forth with the city over her renovation she's been fined and even threatened with jail time.

"It is a struggle in the Black communities specifically because this area has been historically Black for a long time," Scott said. "It is difficult to deal with the strain and stress of what seems to be the pressure for us to just give up the properties, and just give up the land."

That means the loss of a potential wealth-building asset.

Fitzpatrick said he saw Richmond taking steps to stop the erosion of established minority communities, but said it can do more to lift the tide as development continues.

"Are we putting in protective factors that can ensure that the folks that have built those neighborhoods, that have been part of the fabric of those communities, can continue to live there and thrive there?" Fitzpatrick asked.

Because for one Church Hill family giving up cannot be an option.

"It would be devastating," said Scott. "It would be crushing. It would really hurt me to lose this property. The sentimental value of it alone would. It would crush me. It really would."

City Councilmember Ellen Robertson, from Richmond's 6th District, commissioned the HOME report on disparities in housing in Richmond.

I asked Robertson about why the report was necessary.

"We've always known that African Americans are constantly being discriminated against," Robertson said. "The Fair Housing Act is being ignored. A home in a white neighborhood that might be worth $300,000 is only worth $165,000 in a Black neighborhood, and we're not even talking about the so-called lowest-income neighborhoods. The 3rd, 5th and 6th Districts have plenty of middle-class families."

Robertson said that families are being uprooted by the effects of the low valuations.

"I'm particularly concerned about Eastview and Belle-Meade now facing sudden spikes in their real estate taxes because of adjacent developments," said Robertson. "They're about to be displaced."

Robertson listed the current policy proposals she has made:

  • Requiring the city to do a displacement risk assessment for any major development or improvement
  • Establishing a registry of property owners of affordable housing so that when grants and abatements expire they can establish their eligibility for tax exemptions
  • Setting aside a fund of $100 million fund for affordable housing, including land banking property for future affordable housing development
  • Changing the zoning for more opportunities for affordable housing, since right now some 65% of city residential space is zoned for single-family housing

Robertson said she's also working on changing city regulations to get rid of so-called "tax sales," which happens when a homeowner fails to pay their real estate tax. "The City makes it too hard, demanding full payment instead of working on a plan for repayment with the homeowner," she said.
She also said she would work on real estate tax exemptions for seniors who are long-time residents of their homes.

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