Racial zoning and restrictive covenants forced refugees from the Jim Crow south into the least desirable areas where each new arrival in the great migration drove up the cost of rent. Later urban renewal plowed through these very neighborhoods making way for highways and public housing so grossly underfunded it barely survived a generation.
The children of those displaced by Urban Renewal became the target of predatory mortgages masquerading as efforts to expand homeownership. As a result, Black homeowners lost over half their net worth in the 2008 Housing Crisis. Collapsing values and vacant homes set the stage for today’s gentrification.
Each generation has found its own way to deny access to healthy, stable housing and the asset of homeownership to African Americans.
We must learn this history and repair its legacy.
Asheville Habitat recently purchased a lot in South Asheville with a deed restriction preventing the sale of that property to “any person of the colored race”. As an organization that condemns structural racism in our housing system, Asheville Habitat will not transfer this deed to another owner with this abhorrent language. We took the time to learn from the Register of Deeds and work with Pisgah Legal Services to draft new deed language that nullifies the racist restrictions. This is a small step in the right direction and we hope it inspires other property owners to do the same.
Acknowledging historical legacies of racism is only the first step. Today, racist patterns of thought and behavior are so ingrained in our housing systems that they persist despite regulations to reform them. The disparity in homeownership rates between black and white Asheville neighbor stands at 30% roughly reflecting the national average. In 2018, 28% of mortgage applications by African Americans were denied and loans issued to Black borrowers were on average $30,000 lower than those issued to White borrowers.
Over the coming months, Asheville Habitat will engage in other efforts to dismantle the ways race continues to deny strength, stability, and self-reliance to our neighbors. I hope you will join us.