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Boston Black homeowners lose billions to biased property valuations

Discriminatory appraisals stifle Black family wealth-building

Philip Brown
Boston Black homeowners lose billions to biased property valuations
PHOTO: COURTESY BLACK FAMILY NEWS

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In February, a Zillow study found, “The typical home value of Boston-area homes with Black owners is 18% less than homes with white owners.” That has cost Boston’s Black homeowners as much as $2.3 billion and the city of Boston much-needed tax revenue. The appraisal industry’s historical use of race created the practice of redlining, and Boston’s Black neighborhoods still experience lower property values. Black families may be impacted for generations, and for the city of Boston, the loss of tax revenue is immediate and ongoing.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) defines redlining as “the series of interlocking housing policies and practices that denied Black people equal access to housing and housing wealth over the last century. More narrowly, redlining refers to maps created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation starting in the 1930s that ranked urban neighborhoods from “A” (the best, colored in green) to “D” (hazardous for investment, colored red).”

“Black neighborhoods were invariably rated ‘D,’ historian Kenneth Jackson stated. The impact of redlining persists even today.

“Redlined areas tend to have lower housing values, with the exception of South End,” according to the BPDA.

According to Redfin.com, the median home sold in Boston was $697,000 as of March 14. If Boston’s 18,502 black-owned units suffer an 18% lower valuation, that is $125,460 per home or a jaw-dropping $2.3 billion in total.

Bob Credle, director of community programs at Urban Edge, says, “I recently polled my homebuying counselors, and none of them had seen indications of bias when purchasing a home. Bias is more likely when people refinance or wish to sell at the highest price.”

Melvin Vieira, a realtor and past president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, agrees.

“It creeps in more on the refinance or sell side,” he said.

A refinance has no sell price, so the appraiser sets the value for the loan. A low property value limits the loan amount, causes higher interest rates, and can even get the loan denied. This lowers the homeowner’s ability to finance college, make repairs to the property, ride out lean financial times, or pass something down to the next generation.

“My friend’s parents gave her the down payment on her first home as a wedding gift,” said attorney Linda Champion. That friend was white. “How many black families can afford to do that?” Only a few, according to The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In 2015, the Fed calculated black Bostonians’ net worth at just $8, compared to $247,000 for their white counterparts.

Black homeowners are not the only ones impacted. The wider community is also negatively affected. Boston receives lower tax revenues to support the development, repair, and maintenance of city infrastructure, amenities, and public schools.

The lack of diversity among appraisers in the U.S. contributes to the overall problem of undervaluing properties.

According to Zippia.com, only 4.6% of appraisers are black, while 81 % are white. A recent study by the Federal Housing Finance Agency  revealed that

“Ongoing …consideration of prohibited factors like race, …, may result in valuation bias.”

Champion, a managing broker and Board Member of the Urban Edge Housing Corporation (CUE) points out that she has seen appraisers write down the appraised value of Mattapan properties with comments citing “deteriorating market conditions.”

Danyl Collings, Principal and Chief Appraiser of Four Core Valuations, LLC, one of Boston’s few black-certified appraisers, feels differently. “There can always be bad actors, but is the whole thing bad?” Mr. Collings doesn’t believe so because “there are built-in checks and balances in the system.”

What can consumers do if they feel their property is under-appraised?

Request a Reconsideration of Value with your lender

File a complaint with the Secretary of State Division of Licensure

File a complaint with the Massachusetts Board of Real Estate Appraisers

Go to more than one bank — many banks independently review 10-15% of appraisals with outside firms

“I advise all of my clients to depersonalize their home when putting it on the market. Buyers want to see themselves in the property, not the seller,” says Collings. Finally, he warns, “Do not rely on values from Zillow or Redfin. These are marketing companies, not valuation experts. Get an appraiser that knows the local market.”