Regardless of locale, profession, or income, every family needs and deserves a home. But for many—especially Black Americans and other people of color—finding and maintaining affordable housing is increasingly difficult. New research documents not only escalating rental costs, but how Black American efforts to buy affordable homes are blocked by high denial rates nearly double that of White consumers.  

While it is encouraging that this new research documents real-life bargains and locales to access the American Dream of homeownership, mortgage lenders must clearly account for their reasons to deny Black Americans owning their own piece of America. As long as Blacks are forced to struggle with rising rental costs, these same families are denied the housing cost containment of a fixed-rate mortgage, as well as family stability, and the wealth-building that accrues to homeowners.  

The term, ‘rental affordability’ is a ratio of monthly housing costs as a percentage of household income. Researchers, lawmakers and other housing stakeholder groups, consider affordable rent to cost no more than 30 percent. For homeowners, this ratio must also take factors other than the mortgage payment into consideration. Property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and the required private mortgage insurance for small down payment home purchases, must also be included in the calculation.   

But with low rental vacancy rates in most metro areas, rental increases are widespread, and ‘affordable’ rentals are in short supply. The number of units renting for less than $600 fell by 3.9 million between 2011 and 2019, the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) report found. 

“Given that people of color are more likely to have lower incomes and to rent rather than own their homes, the geographic concentration of rental housing helps to perpetuate patterns of racial and socioeconomic segregation,” noted Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a JCHS Research Associate and lead author of the new report.  

A transition to homeownership can be key to containing family housing costs. Other recent research documents how affordable homeownership is still possible for moderate-income families.  

In its 2022 Rental Affordability Report, ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of a national property database, found that paying a monthly mortgage on a median-priced home is more affordable than the average rent on a three-bedroom property in 58 percent of the 1,154 U.S. counties analyzed for the report.  

“[H]ome ownership still remains the more affordable option for average workers in a majority of the country because it still takes up a smaller portion of their pay,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM. “For now, though, rising wages and interest rates around 3 percent are enough to offset recent price run ups and keep ownership on the plus side of the affordability ledger compared to renting.” 

In general, according to ATTOM, homeownership is the most affordable in the Midwest and in the South. Moreover, many of these areas are already home to large numbers of Blacks and other people of color.   

The most affordable homeownership among counties with a population of at least 1 million are Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa.; Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas; Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio; Harris County (Houston), Texas; Hillsborough County (Tampa) Fla.; Philadelphia County, Pa. and Wayne County (Detroit), Mich.  

Homeownership is also a viable option in smaller locales with populations of 500,000 or less.

But as long as mortgage application denial rates disproportionately impact Blacks, Black homeownership will continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. Now, while interest rates remain low, Blacks are being locked out of cost-savings enjoyed by others and the resulting wealth growth. 

The Urban Institute’s new analysis of the annual Home Mortgage Disclosure Act compares the race and ethnicity of those denied mortgages in 2020 for purchase loans as well as home improvement and refinance loans. In each of these loan types, the largest gaps in denial occurred between Blacks and Whites.  

Instead of being locked out, it is time to bring the benefits of home equity and wealth-building to more families. Black America must have its fair share of the American Dream.  

Charlene Crowell is a senior fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.   

DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.

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