Positive signs in the housing market these days are outnumbered by negative ones—such as the data released Tuesday by Case Shiller that showed Chicago home values in January 2012 dipping back to January 2001 levels. And in neighborhoods that are largely African-American or Latino, the positives are even fewer.
Compared to homeowners in white neighborhoods, those in African-American or Latino neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to owe more on their mortgage than the house is worth, according to a report released last week by the Woodstock Institute. Minority homeowners “have far less equity to use in an emergency,” said Spencer Cowan, Woodstock’s vice president for research, in a conference call Tuesday. The average homeowner in a community where at least 90 percent of residents are white has $108,000 in equity, Cowan said; those in predominantly Latino neighborhoods have about one-third that much—and those in African-American neighborhoods have one fifteenth of that amount.
Lucy Mullany of the Illinois Asset Building Group noted that almost 50 percent of nonwhite households in Illinois are “asset poor,” meaning that if their primary income source disappeared, they could live above the poverty level for three months. Fewer than 20 percent of white households are in that same situation. “Homes that have negative equity are most likely asset poor,” she said.
Another disparity surfaces when you look behind the data in Chicago’s annual real-estate charts (in the April issue, on newsstands now). Among other things, the charts show how many homes have sold in each of the 200-plus neighborhoods and suburbs we track. When compared to 2010 and 2006, mainly white neighborhoods are bouncing back, with more homes selling there in recent years. But sales volume remains down in predominantly black and Latino areas.
In the suburbs, Kenilworth, Hawthorn Woods, Glencoe, Burr Ridge, and other towns have seen an increase in the number of sales. (In many cases, that uptick is driven in part by a decline in prices, though that’s just another lure for those already attractive communities.) In the city, it’s Edgewater, Lincoln Square, Forest Glen, and Edison Park. Sales volume is down in places where the majority of the population is people of color, such as Riverdale and Harvey in the suburbs and Woodlawn, Grand Boulevard, and South Shore in the city. There are some mainly white towns—such as Lyons and South Chicago Heights—where sales volume is still down, but they are the exception, not the rule.
The cutoff for data on Chicago’s charts was December 31, 2011. The Illinois Association of Realtors reported last week that sales volume for February 2012 showed further year-to-year gains. The association does not break down the data to the level of individual communities, but given the lopsided trend shown in our data, it seems likely that the sales-volume gap between mainly white neighborhoods and mainly African-American and Latino neighborhoods may have widened in the first months of this year.
If that’s true, “then it [indicates] a bigger drag on equity in these neighborhoods,” said Tom Feltner, Woodstock’s vice president, in Tuesday’s conference call. And it does not bode well for homeowners in mainly nonwhite neighborhoods. If houses there are selling more slowly, in smaller volume, and at bigger price reductions than in mainly white neighborhoods, then economic recovery is farther away for people who already, as Cowan and Mullany noted above, have a smaller safety net.