Racism and sexism in the housing industry

Yolanda, 61, owns a home in the predominantly black 7th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans.

To fix her leaky roof in 2020, she had to borrow money.

“It’s one of those credit card loans,” she said. “Like 30% interest and all that, you know. I was kind of backed against the wall, so I went ahead and took out the loan, a high-interest loan.

As a sociologist who has spent the past 10 years studying housing conditions in the United States, I led a research team that conducted interviews with homeowners struggling with basic maintenance issues such as upholstery and rotting wooden floors, mold, crumbling bricks, outdated plumbing and leaky ceilings. Our first paper from this project is currently undergoing peer review.

Like Yolanda, our interviewees – whom we gave pseudonyms to protect their privacy – were almost all black women over 60 who lived in old buildings in neighborhoods that suffered from discrimination – such as redlining and inequitable land use decisions – and divestment.

Once a lively neighborhood of black businesses and homes, the 7th Ward has become an area of ​​great poverty since the I-10 freeway was built during the 1960s straight through its heart.

Yolanda had already been living there for a decade before the highway was built.

Though brightly painted, Yolanda’s house is only separated from I-10 by an empty lot, and the constant noise and higher pollution levels make it hard to imagine Yolanda could sell his house for a profit or use its diminishing value as equity. .

Did Yolanda take out a high interest loan for nothing?

Was she throwing good money after bad?

These are not easy questions to answer.

Like other black women homeowners we interviewed, Yolanda had to choose between debt and disrepair.

As she explained, she was “leaning against a wall.”

The racist and sexist history of dilapidation

According to a 2022 analysis of federal census data by Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studiesalmost a third of homeowners earning less than $32,000, or about 4.8 million people, have spent nothing on maintenance or upgrades.

I have noticed disturbing trends in the situation of those living in poor housing.

In my book“Stacked Decks”, I explore the links between urban housing, race, gender and income inequality.

Since at least the 1970s, real estate agents and lenders exploited the precarious financial situation of black women and sold them mortgages on homes in poor condition.

Today – 50 years later – these homes pose even greater health and safety risks to their owners than when they first bought them.

Studies show that after less than two years of ownership, dilapidation makes maintaining a livable home difficult for low-income homeowners.

Untreated repairs such as leaky roofs or broken pipes frequently lead to in code violations and court cases, which result in liens, foreclosures and the possibility of roaming.

The situation is worse for black women, who have much less wealth, on average, than their white or male counterparts. Without money to pay for repairs, women homeowners risk going deeper into debt if they carry out repairs.

Climate change means that these problems are getting worse due to increased rainfall and temperature extremes.

Doris, a homeowner in Chicago, told us in 2021 about her leaky old roof and flooding in her basement. She explained that the flooding was partly due to the overflow of drainage pipes belonging to the nearby town.

“Every time it rains, the water comes in,” she said. “By the way the sewers weren’t clean…so much water came into my basement that my washer and dryer were floating on the water.” An insurance claim covered part of the cost of this repair for Doris, and the the city is experimenting with new ways to fight floodsbut the water seeps in when it rains hard.

The racism in the housing industry is now well known. The real estate industry has, at different times in its history, excluded black Americans from home ownership, included them through predatory loans and deals and reinforced racial segregation by denying loans to blacks and other minority residents. Known as redlining, the practice has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of divestment and declining values.

But real estate agents and mortgage brokers were sexist too.

These real estate agents and mortgage brokers knew that black women had limited options and assumed they would be likely to default on their mortgages.

Black women were constantly homes sold that needed repairs.

A lot can happen to a house in 50 years.

Buildings naturally deteriorate over time, due to the combination of aging building materials and weathering. At some point, all homes need repairs and preventative maintenance.

Chicagoan Kimberly cares for her grandson almost full time and told us about her concerns about rotting wood that has made her back porch unsafe.

“We don’t go out the back door at all,” Kimberly said. “We haven’t used this for years. Four years now. For four years we didn’t use the back porch at all.

Decline and environmental injustice

Dilapidation is a problem of environmental injustice. The government has a responsibility to help with repairs because of its role in housing discrimination who created such racial disparities in housing conditions.

But like disaster reliefassistance to homeowners is uneven and difficult to obtain.

American cities often use lotteries to distribute funds for reparationsbarely scratching the surface of the number of homes in need of repair.

Although all houses need repair work over time, disrepair disproportionately affects those with the fewest resources, as maintenance is expensive. Dilapidation also leads to health and safety issues, as do other environmental injustices, such as the location of highways and the location of polluting factories.

Dilapidation can also force people out of their homes because they cannot afford repairs.

But making repairs can exacerbate the debt.

All of this means that owning a home, or even paying off a mortgage, does not guarantee that homes will remain affordable, an asset or a safe haven.

Recognizing dilapidation as environmental racism could be a step to ensuring homes are all of those things.

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license.