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Business & Economy

Columbus ranks near bottom in percentage of home ownership for Black families

WOSU File Photo

Columbus ranks near the bottom when it comes to the percentage of Black families that own their own homes.

That's according to a recent report looking at a century of Census Bureau data compiled by rental platform Apartment List.

Nationally, the Black home ownership rate remains stubbornly low, says report co-author Rob Warnock.

“The Black home ownership rate today is roughly where it was in the 1970s. It's gone up and down a little bit over the course of those 50 years. But essentially, across the country, we're looking in the mid-40% range,” Warnock said.

Interestingly, many Southern cities buck the trend. In Charleston, South Carolina, nearly 60% of Black households own their own homes.

But Columbus ranks below the national average at just 32% second only to Milwaukee in major urban metro cities across the country.

Columbus City Councilwoman Shayla Favor and fellow council members recently put forward a set of initiatives aimed at addressing the city's shortage of affordable homes, while also working to correct sins of the past.

“You know, we're still dealing with the remnants of redlining, and those state-sanctioned policies that created the communities that exist in Columbus here today,” Favor said. "We are committed to ensuring that there is a pathway to homeownership for all residents in the city of Columbus.”

Simone Drake and her husband bought their first house in Pickerington in 2004. They had completed most of the application electronically, and Drake said when they received the paperwork to sign, something caught her eye.

"I noticed that they had listed my husband as white. And he's biracial. And so, but I was also very aware of loan discrimination, and, you know, giving African Americans higher interest rates," Drake said.

Drake is Black. She's also a professor with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State. With lending discrimination top of mind, Drake decided to leave her husband's stated racial status as white.

"We got a good interest rate. But then something changed where we needed to do the application again. And I noticed that the second time that they sent it to me, his race had been changed from white to black and that the interest rate had gone up," Drake said.

By the time they closed in June, their 6% balloon mortgage had changed to a conventional fixed mortgage with a rate of 9.99%.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages that month was 6.25%.

Drake believes race played a role in their higher rate and says the experience was an awakening.

"Because, you know, there were things that I certainly read about that I knew existed. And then, you know, I had to deal with experiencing some of those things firsthand, and not necessarily knowing how to try to mitigate it," Drake said.

Drake's experience is no surprise to fellow OSU professor Jason Reece.

"There are historical patterns of discrimination and housing that were persistent throughout much of the 20th century," Reece said.

Reece is Vice Provost for Urban Research and Community Engagement at OSU's Knowlton School and a faculty affiliate with The Kirwan Institute.

He said the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the reforms that followed opened up access to home ownership for Black and brown Americans.

“We began to see this kind of trajectory upwards from 1970 to 2000 for Black home ownership rates as they were able to get access to credit," Reece said.

But disparities persist. Reece points to data showing, on average, one in four Black applicants will be denied a mortgage. Still, more will have their applications withdrawn or closed, usually due to incomplete data.

"You know, there's something going on, I think, in the underwriting process, or in the appraisal process, which is, again, kind of creating these barriers," Reece said.

Add to that, lagging home construction, high interest rates and a per capita wealth gap that benefits white Americans over Black Americans at a rate of six to one.

Despite these obstacles, Reece said he's optimistic the growing regional conversation about the need for more affordable housing will begin to close the housing gap for people of color in central Ohio.

"This is a solvable problem. But it will take a collective effort," Reece said.

Business & Economy home ownershipcolumbus homes
Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.