Mar 17, 2023 - News

Why Atlanta's Black-owned homeownership rate jumped during COVID

Metro areas with the greatest increase in Black home ownership rates, 2019 to 2021
Data: Zillow; Chart: Axios Visuals

The rate of Black homeownership in Atlanta increased by nearly 5% during the pandemic— more than any other race. But that's not a straightforward piece of good news.

Driving the news: The Black homeownership rate in the city remains about 25% less than that of white households in 2021, according to new data from Zillow.

Why it matters: The increase could be "an early sign" that programs designed to make homeownership more accessible like down payment assistance are "starting to make a mark," said Nicole Bachaud, a senior economist at Zillow.

  • But the rate remains below pre-Great Recession levels, she pointed out, and well behind that of white homeownership. "So there is a long road ahead," she said.

Homes owned by Black Atlantans also appreciated faster than white-owned homes during the pandemic. But Bachaud said that likely reflects that Black home values are lower than average, and lower-priced homes have been in high demand.

  • The average Black-owned home in Atlanta is worth about $44,000 less than the overall average, per Zillow.

What they're saying: Odetta MacLeish-White, director of Georgia Initiatives for the Center for Community Progress, told Axios the increase could be positive, "but only if a family can pull equity from that increased appreciation to help finance a new house, pay off debt, or fund other family projects."

  • If homeowners instead are merely faced with increased taxes, she said, it "destabilizes the household and the community."

The big picture: Josh Humphries, the mayor's senior housing policy advisor, told Axios in an interview there's no "silver bullet" to solve the generational problems of housing affordability and Black homeownership.

  • "It's going to take a lot of work for a long period of time and policy efforts and programs like down payment assistance to help chip away at that," he said. "And we're not gonna solve it overnight. But I do think collectively, we can make a real dent."
  • He pointed to a slew of programs including the mayor's Housing Strike Force which is working to leverage under-utilized public land to develop affordable housing and "flanking" it with amenities like grocery stores and good schools.

Zoom in: Amanda Rhein, executive director of Atlanta Land Trust, which works to build long-term affordable homes, told Axios the appreciation of Black-owned homes is "just gentrification. More white people are moving into what have been historically Black neighborhoods, so demand for homes in those communities has increased."

  • She credited the homeownership rate change in part to programs implemented to address the inequity — including down payment assistance programs from entities like Invest Atlanta and Atlanta Housing.

MacLeish-White said other solutions with promise include programs like the GRO Fund's guaranteed income work and the Westside Future Fund's anti-displacement tax fund to keep people in their homes.

  • Humphries highlighted an owner-occupied rehab fund to help prevent displacement.

Yes, but: Despite the rate increase, "it was bad to begin with," Rhein said.

  • MacLeish-White puts the disparity at the feet of the "well-documented impacts of systemic racism" ranging from under-appraised homes to credit-score-driven mortgage access.
  • "You have to understand the history of racism in the United States to understand why this disparity exists," Rhein said. "We legislatively implemented laws that prevented Black families from accessing homeownership for decades if not centuries. So now we're playing catch-up."

What we're watching: Particularly in Atlanta, first-time Black home buyers are also "competing with large investors for those entry-level single-family homes," Rhein pointed out. "There's even less inventory on the market now and the inventory that's there, there's more competition."

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