Black Home Ownership and ‘the American Dream’ in Ward 8

D.C. Councilman Marion Barry wants to encourage home ownership in majority black Ward 8, where only 24 percent of residents are homeowners. How? By banning construction of new apartment buildings. He tells Washington City Paper‘s Lydia DePillis:

“The American dream is to own a home. And black people have not gotten the American dream as much as they need to,” Barry says. “Somebody can rent for 20 years, and has no equity in their unit at all.”

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Renters are the most vulnerable to forces of redevelopment and gentrification, since they can’t really profit from leaving a neighborhood with exploding housing prices the way a homeowner can. But owning a home, and having equity tied to it, doesn’t necessarily buffer one from poverty, either. As noted yesterday, one of the contributing factors to the decline of the black middle class is the fact that African Americans generally had more of their wealth tied up in housing than white people did at the start of the recession — 63 percent versus 38.5 percent. Declining housing prices and foreclosures meant the loss of a lot of black wealth — between 2004 and 2009, the median net worth for black households dropped by 83 percent. For white households, it dropped by 24 percent.

On the other hand, the value of homes in D.C. as a whole hasn’t dropped at drastic levels since the peak of the bubble. Only a few portions of Ward 8 saw home values decline at higher rates than the national metro area average.

Even still, there are plenty of questions as to whether banning new apartment construction would even be effective in increasing home ownership. Matthew Yglesias of ThinkProgress writes:

There’s just no way that zoning policy in Ward 8 of Washington, DC could possibly influence black people’s ability to own homes. Banning apartment buildings will reduce the supply of affordable housing and reduce construction jobs. That’s it.

  • Floridafreedom

    We need more apartments and SROs, not fewer! This “homeownership” drive benefits only the wealthy and hurts us renters, treating us as though we don’t exist. Marion Barry is dead wrong n this.

  • Anonymous

    Might I point out that were are in the midst of a mortgage foreclosure crisis that came about, in part because of  a blind push towards HOUSE ownership even if the financing (through the mortgage loan) was financially unsustainable.  Barry’s solution assumes if you provide a certain housing type then house ownership will follow.  Instead, affordable housing should be available in a variety of forms to meet people’s different needs and goals.  A rental apartment might be more appealing since you do not directly pay for taxes or upkeep.  A condo might be appealing if you get the right financing to make the mortgage, maintenance fees, taxes and insurance affordable.  An affordable house might be appealing for a larger family if they get the right financing to make the mortgage, have enough extra for repairs and the homeowners assn. fees, taxes and insurance.   If we learned anything from the crisis is that people need sensible choices.