The Biden administration released an action plan on Wednesday to root out racial discrimination in home appraisals, which has left Black homeowners in Chicago and across the country with lower values on their properties.
On June 1, 2021 — the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre — the Biden administration announced the creation of a task force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE) to tackle the historical legacy of undervalued Black neighborhoods, segregation and stereotypes contributing to the wide disparity between appraised values in Black and white neighborhoods across the country.
The plan includes 21 action items, which the White House calls the first step, that deal with regulation and empowering homeowners to seek remedies. A senior administration official told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s announcement by Vice President Kamala Harris that executive orders weren’t needed to hold appraisers accountable.
For decades, the appraisal industry has flown under the radar and has skirted criticism about its role in racial discrimination. The plan directs federal agencies toward oversight and to create a legislative proposal to modernize the governance structure of the appraisal industry while noting that violations run counter to the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Homeowners who believe they’ve received an appraisal lower than expected will have steps for reconsideration. New policies will attempt to ensure that algorithms and other technology used to estimate property values will not replicate past discrimination and other biases. And the plan lays out how to cultivate a more diverse appraisal workforce that is overwhelmingly white and male.
Appraisals are among the final steps in purchasing or refinancing a home with a mortgage. It’s supposed to be a neutral practice to evaluate the property but subjectivity prevails, especially when it comes to communities of color. Last year, Freddie Mac found that 12.5% of appraisals for home purchases in majority-Black neighborhoods and 15.4% in majority-Latino neighborhoods resulted in a value below the contract price compared to only 7.4% of appraisals in predominantly white neighborhoods.
“For generations, millions of Black and brown Americans have had their homes valued for less than their white counterparts simply because of the color of their skin or the racial makeup of the neighborhood,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, in a statement. “Black and brown homeowners in communities just like mine have not felt that they have had a voice or that the federal government was doing enough to redress the issue of racial bias in the appraisal process”
Junia Howell, a sociologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, said there is depth and significance to the action plan.
“It’s a level of acknowledgement that our federal government recognizes its own historical and contemporary role and complicity in a system that is perpetuating inequality and inequality that they’re affirming,” Howell said. “But more than any other statement on such things, they have really articulated very specific mechanisms that state agencies and other regulatory bodies can take to change kind of the structural requirements of the process to become an appraiser to actually address some of the extreme racial segregation within the occupational force.”
Black homeowners are publicly recounting stories of lower valuations, noting that appraisals increase when they remove photos from their home that identify them as African Americans. Low appraisals perpetuate a cycle of depressed home values in Black and Latino communities since those valuations are typically based on the undervalued appraisals of nearby properties and that, in turn, contributes to the racial wealth gap.
Howell and scholar Elizabeth Korver-Glenn published a study that found the neighborhood race appraisal gap doubled in the U.S. from 1980 to 2015. They drilled down their analysis for WBEZ to show the Chicago-area racial gap. They created a model comparing houses of similar style in similar socioeconomic neighborhoods, which differed only by their racial demographics. In 1980, there was a $50,000 gap between Black/Latinx neighborhood home values and white ones. In 2015, that gap was $324,000.
Despite her praise of the federal action plan, Howell said systemic inequality should be fleshed out better — and that’s harder to do.
“The racial inequality in home values illuminates the extent to which our current appraisal system is built on the racial composition of space. Yet, this does not implicitly mean that white home values are ‘accurate’ or ‘neutral’ estimations,” Howell said. “White home values are just as much, if not more, biased by whiteness.”