HOUSTON (CN) — Once a city with ample opportunity for upward mobility, Houston’s welcome mat is fraying with home prices rising beyond the reach of the working class. And the American Dream is slipping fastest from the hands of Black Houstonians.
Homeownership rates for African Americans in Houston and surrounding Harris County declined more than for any other racial and ethnic group from 2010 to 2018, falling from 37% to 31% in the city and 41% to 37% in the county, according to a new report by Rice University, a private school in Houston.
Black people also make up 56% of the county’s homeless population and 20% of its 4.7 million residents, said Mike Nichols, CEO of Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit social services organization that does a yearly count of the region’s homeless.
“Homeownership is a major asset building tool in the U.S. and this challenge of securing and passing on generational wealth is particularly acute for Black households in our area,” said Kyle Shelton, deputy director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
“Lots of communities where Black ownership is falling most are also areas that have been hit by major flooding in the last five years. So there’s a clear connection between climate change and the brunt of some of the challenges our region is facing,” Shelton said in a recent webinar.
Houston real estate broker Jon Manning said he believes it comes down to education, as many Black people buy homes before doing their homework.
He is one of a handful of Black instructors at the Champions School of Real Estate’s Houston campus.
“What are the tax rates?” he said. “Is this in a flood zone? Do I need flood insurance? How do I get flood insurance? How much does it cost? The education of homeownership is lacking in the Black community.”
Aside from any talk of building generational wealth, which cannot come until the mortgage is significantly paid down or paid off, Manning believes homeownership brings immediate benefits.
“Having the pride that you own it,” he said in an interview. “The stability that the only way you can get put out is if you don’t make the payment. The landlord is not going to come raise the rent. And there’s something about saying my mama and daddy own this house. Or we’ve owned this house this many years. We have stability. Because the wealth will come, the wealth will come later.”
Home sweet home has taken on a deeper meaning amid the Covid-19 pandemic with people infected by the respiratory illness, or exposed to it, spending weeks at home quarantining, others working from home while their workplaces are closed and those who have lost their jobs due to business shutdowns struggling to pay their mortgage or rent as eviction moratoriums expire.
The affordability problems in Houston are not unique to African Americans.
Rent prices in the area have jumped 80% over the last 10 years, house prices have skyrocketed and wages have not kept pace.
The median home price in Harris County grew from $139,000 in 2011 to $220,000 in 2018, while median household income rose from $52,000 to $60,000, according to Rice University researchers.
The picture is even more bleak when only looking at renters in Harris County. Their median income was $40,000 in 2018, which meant they could afford a $126,000 home, the researchers found.
“But again, the median sales price had jumped to $220,000, almost a $93,000 income gap,” said Shelton, the Rice University housing expert.
George Floyd grew up in Houston and spent most of his adult life here. The national spotlight on systemic racism turned on by Minneapolis police killing him in May has brought a renewed focus on broad wealth disparities.
For instance, the average Black household in the U.S. has a net worth $800,000 lower than the average white household, the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank, said in a June 15 report.
Nichols, the Coalition for the Homeless CEO, said in an email the large number of Black homeless people in Houston is a result of broken systems, as nonprofits like his are the “last stop for those who have been failed time and time again by our society.”
He said Black homeless people have had disproportionate interactions with the criminal justice system, poorer educations and less job opportunity and advancement compared to other groups.
Nichols’ claims are bolstered by a new report from the ACLU of Texas, Black Lives Matter Houston and several other civil rights groups.
“It shows that Black Houstonians make up just 23% of the population, but 36% of police stops, 49% of citation-eligible arrests, and 63% of those shot by the Houston Police Department. Black people in Houston are suffering disproportionately at the hands of police,” the July 4 report states.
The groups are urging the city to reallocate some of the $964 million it budgeted for the Houston Police Department for fiscal year 2021, which started July 1, to hiring counselors and social workers who could help homeless people suffering from mental health and drug abuse problems so they are not arrested.
Despite all the gloom, the pandemic has brought a ray of hope for Houston’s homeless.
Houston, Harris County and the Coalition for the Homeless recently announced a plan to spend $65 million in federal aid over the next two years to house 5,000 homeless people.