I recently got hired as a history professor at Simmons College of Kentucky, and I can hardly wait to move to Louisville. I’m excited to explore the Muhammad Ali Center, to indulge in the best bourbon tours and to learn the city’s rich history.
But before this fun can begin, my family and I must find a place to call home. Compared with other metro areas, Louisville’s housing market seems quite affordable, especially for the culture and amenities it boasts.
Yet, as I have begun to search for a house, I have quickly discovered Louisville’s average home value only tells a part of the story.
White neighborhoods vs. communities of color
In Louisville’s majority white neighborhoods, the average home costs $325,942, three times the $116,180 that homes in Louisville majority Black communities’ cost.
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As a historian, I know part of these differences are due to historical policies that segregated Louisville’s neighborhoods along racial lines, ensuring white residents lived in larger houses in neighborhoods with less pollution, less poverty, more services and more amenities.
Yet a recent report using brand new data found that neither historical racist policies nor contemporary socioeconomic differences can explain the gap between Louisville appraisal values.
In “Appraised: The Persistent Evaluation of White Neighborhoods as More Valuable Than Communities of Color,” sociologists Junia Howell and Elizabeth Korver-Glenn used every appraisal conducted in Louisville from 2013 through 2021 to compare homes of similar size, age and condition in neighborhoods with residents of the same socioeconomic status and comparable access to retail stores (including groceries), restaurants, local services (e.g. libraries and post offices) and other amenities.
Comparing apples to apples, these scholars show Louisville appraisers evaluate homes in white communities as $133,465 (or 175%) more than comparable homes in comparable neighborhoods of color.
This phenomenon is not unique to Louisville. In fact, the researchers did the same analysis in the 105 most populated U.S. metropolitan areas and found that nationally, homes in white neighborhoods are appraised at double the value of comparable homes in similar communities of color.
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Inequality in home appraisals
In many ways, Louisville’s housing does not present itself as an outlier. The prices are neither extremely high nor extremely low. The city is growing, but it’s not one of the fastest. Nor is the housing market shrinking or bottoming out. It is precisely in the averages that the stark inequality of housing stands out.
Even in a relatively affordable city, racism is still shaping home values. This became even more true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, “In a mere two years, the average home in White neighborhoods increased in value $136,000, which is more than twice the appreciation a comparable house in a community of color experienced ($60,000).”
In the past decade, inequality in home appraisals has increased 75%. Home values relate to the racial wealth gap, residential segregation and educational options.
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What accounts for this inequality?
There are no individuals sitting with steepled fingers behind a big desk in an office somewhere maliciously plotting how to strip value from the homes owned by people of color.
Systemic racism does not require the intentions of an individual to occur. If the system simply operates as it was set up long ago, then these patterns of inequality will persist.
It is always a challenge to face these realities, especially when you are getting ready to relocate your family to a new city and want to hope for the best for your futures. Yet, what is exciting about Louisville are the community efforts to address these very inequities.
I am still looking forward to moving to Louisville because of the profound work Simmons College of Kentucky is doing to address the systemic inequities not only in Louisville but also across the state and nation.
Simmons College of Kentucky has defied the odds repeatedly to remain a Black-led institution serving and equipping the Louisville community. Building on this 143-yearlong legacy, we can address the racial inequalities in the home appraisal system.
Collectively, we must reckon with the past and present racism in Louisville’s housing industry and reimagine a system that will enable all Louisvillians to have places to live that are both comfortable and affordable.
Jemar Tisby is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism.” He holds a Ph.D. in history and is a professor at Simmons College of Kentucky, where this column originally published in The Courier-Journal. He writes regularly at JemarTisby.Substack.com
Story Credit: usatoday.com