New York City has lost thousands of Black homeowners over the last decade, and could lose even more as the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic accelerates.

The Center for NYC Neighborhoods has embarked on a project to explore methods to stem the loss of Black homeownership in the city, and to identify new pathways to grow homeownership for Black communities. Through the Black Homeownership Project (BHP), we aim to identify and highlight existing organizations and resources, and to uplift and celebrate Black homeowners, Black neighborhoods, and Black communities.

The recent protests in response to the police-involved killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have drawn more attention than ever to the discrimination, racism, violence, and trauma inflicted by systemic racism in our society. At the Center, we strive to combat historic injustices brought about by racist policies and practices, such as redlining and predatory lending, and ideologies that have excluded people from the benefits of homeownership and intergenerational asset-building.

A legacy of racist housing policies and practices, especially redlining and predatory lending that led to the Great Recession, have made it impossible for many Black and Hispanic families across the United States to have the opportunity to tap into the equity-building benefits of homeownership. In fact, Black and Hispanic families have accumulated significantly less wealth today than their White and Asian counterparts.

This racial wealth gap is both the cause – and a reflection of –  the much lower homeownership rate of Black families, as a house is still the most valuable asset for most Americans. Nationally, the racial wealth gap broadened following the Great Recession: in 1984, White families had a median wealth 12 times that of Black families and 8 times that of Hispanic households. After the crash, White families’ median wealth increased to 20 times that of Black families and 18 times that of Hispanic ones. In New York City, White families make up more than 54% of homeowners, though they are only 45% of the city’s population.

Unfortunately, these trends show no sign of reversal. As we documented in our investigation of homeownership in the 10 years since the financial crisis, the City has seen a drop in the number of Black homeowners: in Queens alone, the City lost more than 20,000 Black homeowners between 2005 and 2017. Although there are currently more than 180,000 Black homeowner households in the city, these homeowners face greater challenges to remaining in their homes than White families: foreclosures were more prevalent in majority-Black neighborhoods, and brown and Black communities are more likely to be targeted for scams or burdened by tax liens.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these long-standing inequalities. Black Americans and Black New Yorkers have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic—with Black New Yorkers twice as likely to die from the virus as White New Yorkers.  These disparities have been tied to the decades of discrimination, redlining, segregation, over-policing, and environmental racism that has resulted in Black communities with fewer resources, less investment, and worse health outcomes.

Thousands of workers face unemployment and income loss, while those employed in essential businesses continue to work while exposed to greater risks of contracting infection. We must work to ensure that the COVID-19 crisis does not speed up the loss of Black homeownership in New York City, or create additional barriers to building Black homeownership in our neighborhoods.

The challenge is a great one, but the work must be done. The Center has assembled the biggest research team in its history to meet it. BHP is driven by interdisciplinary teams with members and leaders from across the organization and incorporates practices of research justice with the goal of challenging power dynamics in research. To develop interventions, the Center will engage with residents throughout the city — both homeowners and renters — to gather their stories and learn from their experiences. What we learn from this engagement and community outreach will deeply inform and shape the policy and program proposals that emerge from this project.

The project can only be successful with input and expertise from the community organizations, agencies, community boards, homeowners, and residents of New York City. Together, we hope to increase the knowledge in our communities about the issues homeowners face and the strengths of our communities.

We hope that you will join us in exploring and celebrating Black homeownership in New York City. If you’re interested in participating or learning more about the project, email bhp-engage@cnycn.org.