Skip to main content

Home Ownership Is Not "Acting White"

This blog entry is dedicated to Bob "Treebob" Williams, who gave Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB) the gentle nudge to buy his first home.  Rest in peace, Bob.

Sadly, there are many characteristics that my people write off as "acting white":  Being intelligent, speaking English well, doing well in school, having good credit.  But there's one that strikes fear in my heart for the next generation:  Home ownership.

The Housing Bubble and the Great Recession resulted in lots of African-Americans losing their homes.  Many of us have written off home ownership, thinking of the whole real estate market as being shady (and there's something to that; more on that later) and of home ownership as being beyond our reach and for white folks.

The reason this scares me is that the gains we as African-Americans made in home ownership in the late '90's and early 2000's won't be regained if we as a people simply write off home ownership.  Why does it matter?  Because a home is the largest intergenerational wealth transfer that most people make.  Because home ownership often sets the stage for paying for a child's education.  Because home ownership can be part of the portfolio of assets that pay for retirement.

Watching us turn away from home ownership reminds me of an episode of "Sex in the City" when Carrie Bradshaw receives notice that her apartment building is going co-op.  She's been given the opportunity to buy her apartment.  One would think that Carrie, with her love of Manolos and all things luxe, wouldn't sweat buying her apartment.  She does, though, because she can't afford it.  So she writes off home ownership until, over lunch with Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, she discovers that they are all home owners. The vulnerability that Carrie felt -- that she could be out on the street at the whim of her landlord -- was palpable.  In the end, Charlotte sells her wedding ring to loan Carrie the down payment on her apartment.

Home buying doesn't normally occur this way for black folks.  That doesn't make it any less important.

The reason why I harp on this so much is that I wonder, "What will average African-Americans have to hand down to their children if they don't buy homes?" True, you will, on average, experience a higher rate of return from investing in stocks than in investing in real estate.  And I don't consider home ownership to be a true "investment."  But home ownership doesn't require the same level of expertise required to pick stocks, and it is highly subsidized by the government because of the mortgage interest deduction, and even more so if you are a veteran and qualify for veterans' home loans.  You have to live somewhere -- why not own what you live in?

I'm not concerned about the wealth gap between African-Americans and whites for wealth's sake.  I'm concerned about it because wealth means freedom.  The more money you have, the more choices you can make about your life -- whether to go to college, where to live, what to do for a living.   The ability to transfer wealth between generations is the basis for that economic freedom.  Home ownership is part of the wealth transfer.

Yes, the Housing Bubble housing market was shady.  Yes, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and other financial institutions conspired to put African-Americans in subprime loans.  Yes, we need to be smarter the next time around.  But you don't throw out home ownership entirely because you got burned.  It's not about you.  It's about the generations to come behind you.

Home ownership starts with an intention.  The intention leads to a plan -- improving your credit, saving your money, having a stable job.  It requires sacrifice -- fewer shoes, fewer Xboxes and flat screen TVs, more savings.  And it may require flexibility -- if you live in a high cost area, you might have to buy somewhere more affordable -- like Texas.  Instead of a house, you might have to start out with a condo.  Instead of new construction, you might have to start with a fixer-upper and watch home improvement shows and how-to videos on YouTube.  You might have to buy your house with other relatives, maybe with two or more families.  You might have to buy in a not-so-great neighborhood and convert your local school into a charter school.  But over time, the appreciation in value that normally occurs with home ownership  (Real Estate Bubble notwithstanding) will inure to your benefit and the benefit of your children and their children.

What scares me now is that there are real estate investment firms that are buying up unfinished lots and building new homes solely for the purpose of renting them.

Not selling them.  Renting them.

This phenomenon is playing itself out in Atlanta, and it looks like it's targeted toward African-Americans who want to live in a new house and can't afford to buy where they want to live.  It's like real estate crack -- once you get that high of living in a brand new home that you rent, you're not willing to make the long-term sacrifice to buy a home that you can actually afford and trade up later.  It's like trading off long-term financial benefit for short-term real estate euphoria.  And we're falling for this real estate okey-doke yet again. 

People, let's not fall for this again.  The only thing renting a house does is make the owner of that house richer.

And, for the record, home ownership is not acting white.  My parents owned their home.  My uncles and aunts owned their homes.  My grandparents owned their homes. 

Wouldn't it be a shame if the pre-civil rights, "Jim Crow" generation of African-Americans transferred more wealth to us through home ownership than we transfer to the generations following us?


Popular posts from this blog

When You Leave The Ghetto, Don't Bring It With You

NBA player Gilbert Arenas brings a gun to an NBA locker room. NBA player Ron Artest lets his pit bulls run wild and free in Loomis, California while playing for the Sacramento Kings. NFL player Michael Vick did time for fighting dogs. And NFL player Plaxico Burress is doing time for shooting his damn self.

What do all these men have in common? BMNB would say an inability to make a profound paradigm shift. I’m less eloquent than BMNB is, so I’ll say it differently: The inability to leave the ghetto behind.

Yes, call me saditty, bourgie, elitist, stuck-up, whatever. I don’t care. Until you’ve had a tweaker ruin your Thanksgiving turkey, you don’t even know (more on that later), and I’m not trying to hear you.

Living in Western Placer County, my husband and I continue to hear stories from folks like us who had to flee “those who can’t leave the ghetto behind.” You know these people, and they come in all races. In our case, we had returned to Sacramento in 2004 and 2005, respective…

Black Woman Blogging's Gun Control Proposal

Thanks to a relative who sent me death threats, I became a gun owner. Reluctantly.  What can I say.  You don't choose your family.

That said, I'm for gun control.

As far as I'm concerned, America lost its moral compass when we didn't do squat after Sandy Hook.  If you can allow a madman to murder children and not be moved to do nothing, you have no moral compass.  Period.

Now that we've broken an unfortunate record for the number of people killed in a mass shooting, perhaps we as a country are ready to get our minds right about gun control.  Perhaps.  So in that spirit, I offer my gun control proposal.

First, we need to agree on some real (not alternative) facts and principles:

1.  There is no such thing as an unlimited right.  Yes, people, there are no unlimited rights protected under the Constitution.  Your right to free speech?  Well, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment and even protected speech can be limited by time, place and manner.  Your…

Retired Man Walking: Too Young to Retire, Too Old to Take Shit

A while back I ran into a friend and fellow professional employed by the State of California, and he offered me his perspective on State employment as a tail-end Baby Boomer like myself -- someone who can't retire because he lacks the requisite age or years of service, but, unlike myself, is tired of taking shit from superiors who don't know what to do with you.

Although my friend gave his permission for me to use his name in this blog entry, I decline to do so because what he does is so specialized that it would not be hard for anyone to identify him as one of the few African American men, if not the only African-American man, in California state civil service who does what he does. For purposes of this blog entry, I will refer to him as he now refers to himself:  Retired Man Walking.

Retired Man Walking, or RMW, has an interesting philosophy he applies to working for the State as a professional who isn't old enough to retire but has been around long enough to know the s…