What Gentrification Means for Black Owners

What Gentrification Means for Black Homeowners

Nostalgia isn't enough to keep Thomas Holley, 74, at the Crown Heights brownstone where he has lived for more than 58 years.

He married in this house and raised his children there. His man cave in the basement, complete with bar and mood lighting, was an oasis into which he escaped for the time being.

But now fully retired from his transit job as a bus operator and after health setbacks – a heart attack and spinal surgery – he'd like to trade the brownstone for more peace and quiet and year-round sunshine in the apartment he bought in 2017 in the Florida suburb north of Orlando.

He loves Brooklyn, but the gentrification of Crown Heights is difficult for him to watch and experience. As a black homeowner, he most of all wants another black homeowner to take over the house. But precisely because gentrification has driven property values ​​so high, Mr. Holley may not be able to do it.

Like other black homeowners selling single-family homes in competitive zip codes, Mr Holley feels that the sale is fraught with the burden of his race. He had hoped to leave the house to his only living child, a son in New Jersey, but his son doesn't care about the brownstone. Mr Holley fears that if he listed the house on the open market he could inadvertently play a role in the ongoing displacement of the Crown Heights black community. "I can't turn down a market offer because it's for my six grandchildren," he said. "I want to leave you something."

The history of racial exclusion, segregation and inequality in real estate has meant that home ownership means much more to blacks than basic housing and financial stability. "There are absolutely unique ways that the black home experience differs from other experiences," said Jacob William Faber, professor of sociology and civil service at New York University.

"Black people and black communities have been excluded from the opportunity to build wealth and that is why giving their homes to families is so important," he added. “There is so much history that it is not just a financial transaction. It's a cultural transaction. And it's a family transaction. "

Mr Holley estimates that the 12-room two-family home he inherited from his mother could be worth nearly $ 2 million, well above what most of his friends or family members could afford. He offered to sell it to a friend at a below market price, but the friend did not qualify for a mortgage. He knows that if he advertises the house, he has to adhere to fair living rules and is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race.

Mr. Holley recalls when Crown Heights felt it was "one hundred percent black." The area is now less than 50 percent black. "I do not mind. It's some of the people who are moving in that are problematic, ”Holley said.

Not so long ago he said, “I noticed that a neighbor had put something up in front of the house and was curious. I went over to have a conversation and before I could finish a sentence he told me he had no money. ”Being mistaken for a beggar by one of his new white neighbors was a clear message about the development of the Quarter. “I've lived here all my life. Only three other people in the block who have been here longer than me, ”he said.

Mr Holley has made his peace with the fact that his house is unlikely to be sold to a black man, but he feels sad and a little guilty. "Once black people have moved out, it is difficult for them to come back into the neighborhood because gentrification is completely extinguishing them."

To ease the guilt of a black homeowner selling his home in an emerging community, Dr. First and foremost, Faber states that "these longtime homeowners should be congratulated and appropriately compensated for the investments they made in these neighborhoods when white households were still alive." Escape from decades. "

He added that the problems associated with gentrification, "such as the rising cost of living, increased police harassment, political and social displacement, are not caused by black homeowners." They are caused, he said, “by forces that move property, such as speculative property buying, rental property consolidation, zoning laws, mortgage markets. All of these things are far more influential than the individual homeowner. "

Despite a long history of black home ownership in New York City, ever-increasing home prices have made many black New York homes in the city inaccessible. New York City's 2014 home ownership rate was just 31 percent, less than half the national home ownership rate of 63 percent, according to a New York University Furman Center home ownership report. Only 26 percent of black households in the city owned their homes, compared with 42 percent for white households, 39 percent for Asian households, and 15 percent for Hispanic households.

Jeremie Greer, co-founder and co-executive director of Liberation in a Generation, a nonprofit that focuses on racial justice, believes fair housing rules could be used for the benefit of black homeowners and buyers. The Affirmativly Fördering Fair Housing Act, which requires communities to recognize and address patterns of racial segregation prohibited under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, “was demoted during the Trump administration but recently restored and can be used to address some of the challenges to underpin the Black and Brown homebuyers, ”he said. For example, the law could be used to oblige communities to investigate the legacy of redlining, he said, and "force local jurisdictions to provide remedial measures such as down payment assistance and low-interest loans for black and brown homebuyers."

Evelyn Polhill, 89, adopted a pragmatic tone when selling her three-family house in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “America is a capitalist country. It's all about what the market can take, ”she said. “If you sell your house, how will you be displaced? If you sell, you have to move elsewhere. If you don't take that into account, then you are telling yourself a lie. You are not honest."

When Ms. Polhill and her husband bought their three-family house in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1958, 10 years before the Fair Housing Act came into force, white families fled the city and moved to the suburbs when black families moved next door. The German couple who had sold them the house went in a hurry. Now, for many black people in their network, their home is very desirable and inaccessible. Like Mr. Holley's son, the children of Ms. Polhill, a son who lives in Maryland and a daughter who has traveled the world through her flight job and lives elsewhere in New York, have no interest in brownstone.

"You know, there was this post-World War I song, 'How do you keep them on the farm after they see paree?", "Ms. Polhill said. "My children have been to other places and I don't blame them for not wanting to come back."

Black Home Ownership in N.Y.C.

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A constant challenge. Over the past 20 years, black home ownership has declined in New York City and nationally, with gentrification and questionable credit policies hindering potential buyers. The Times surveyed more than a dozen black homeowners across the city, from new buyers to longtime owners, in condominiums and cooperatives, brownstone and grassy homes to investigate the difficulties they faced.

Erasing racism from action. Even with the means of purchase and effective lending, deeds for houses built before 1968 often contained clauses prohibiting black ownership. The clauses are now illegal, and more homeowners are looking to erase ugly language from their property records – and state lawmakers are helping them.

Frustration and gentrification. Black sellers who want to keep their home in the hands of black buyers often have no choice but to sell privately to family or friends. When selling on the open market, the owners have to grapple with the fact that accepting the highest bid could mean another step towards the blackout.

Differences in the real estate business. 75 percent of the real estate company's top executives are white men. Recently the National Association of Realtors issued a rare apology for past discriminatory policies; Brokerage firms have launched diversity initiatives; and new programs have been launched to train black people as realtors and help black people become homeowners.

What is redlining? Redlining is an abbreviation for many racial exclusion tactics in real estate and comes from cards for state-insured mortgage programs that were developed after the Depression. Neighborhoods where blacks lived were outlined in red, identifying the areas as least creditworthy. Private lenders also began using the cards, effectively barring many black residents from home ownership.

Mark Winston Griffith, 58, knows the emotional complexities of black home ownership. As the director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, he often ponders the irony of working in a black-run organization that works to build black communities when the people in the community he organizes disappear.

"I am lucky. I am blessed. I am trying to ensure that I can pass the generational benefits I have acquired on to others who have not had that advantage. That is where I come from regarding the future of this house," said Mr Griffith, who owns and lives in a brownstone that has been in his family for four generations, it seems inconceivable that his family does not live within its walls.

Mr. Griffith bought the house from his father, who gave him equity so that Mr. Griffith could pay for the house below market value. That was the only way he could afford it. Although he currently has no plans to sell, he said, "Everyone who has lived in New York has talked about leaving at some point." He can't control what happens, but he hopes the house will go to his two sons.

It's hard not to be sad about the disappearance of a certain type of history and neighborhood legacy, Mr. Griffith said.

“As a fellowship student, I know neighborhoods do just that,” he said. "They change. So part of me sees it with the understanding that neighborhoods are not static and should not be static either."

When it is time for him to sell his house, when none of his sons want the house, he can hope that it will be sold to a black family or used for a community purpose.

"All I can do is make sure there is a place for black people, for my family, and for a healthy and prosperous neighborhood," he said.

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