Racial Wealth Gap: How The Property Tax System Harms Black Homeowners

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This June, the Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the historic role that biased home valuations have played in limiting Black Americans’ wealth-building opportunities, releasing a fact sheet detailing how the administration plans to address this systemic racial bias. The plan reflects a call for action to confront a broader set of issues within the housing market and taxation system that intersect to uniquely affect Black communities. Black homeowners face inequities in our tax code and housing industry, unfair tax burdens, and a biased appraisal system—all of which undermining the potential of homeownership as a wealth-building tool for Black homebuyers.

But structural reforms are possible, and they could help to build systems that grow—rather than extract—Black wealth.

In this piece, we explore the often overlooked and compounding racially discriminatory practices in the housing market and property taxation system, and how they limit wealth-building opportunities for Black homeowners. We also explore how the current housing market allows white homebuyers’ preferences to dictate the racial makeup of residential communities and the extent to which Black homebuyers can gain equity from their home. These issues underscore that the Biden-Harris administration must remain committed to addressing the layered practices of discrimination and promote policies that empower Black homeowners to build generational wealth.

Housing and tax policy penalize Black homeowners and widen the racial wealth gap

Twentieth-century discriminatory housing policies and practices are indisputably responsible for segregating America’s residential communities and contributing to existing racial wealth disparities. Tax law and practice aggravate these effects and place a disproportionately heavy financial and oftentimes emotional burden on the average Black homeowner. So, while public conversations about how to close the racial wealth gap often focus on the importance of homeownership, they overlook the impact of the property tax system—particularly, property valuation mechanisms—on the Black homeownership experience.

Property assessments and appraisals are two different estimations of a home’s value, conducted at two different times. Their contribution to the improper valuation of Black-owned homes—through both over-assessment and under-valuation—have caused Black homeowners to lose money by way of monthly property tax payments and at the time of sale. This burden is a reflection of America’s disinvestment in, devaluation of, and disrespect for predominantly Black neighborhoods. It also reveals a penalty that housing institutions and legal frameworks place on Black homeowners—a penalty that will only grow more harmful if we continue to try to address it with ahistorical, race-neutral solutions.

Today, median white household wealth sits at $187,300, compared to just $14,100 for Black households. And while 72.7% of white Americans are homeowners, only 44% of Black Americans are.


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