SEATTLE — The gap in the homeownership rate between Black and white families in the U.S. is bigger today than when it was legal to refuse to sell someone a home because of the color of their skin, according to data from the Urban Institute.
The percentage of Black people who own homes in Washington state is 31.1%, well below the national average of 42.6% and less than half of the white homeownership rate in Washington state, which sits at 64%.
That means fewer Black families own homes compared to white families in Washington and nationwide.
What are the reasons behind these disparities? The KING 5 Facing Race team pulled back the layers of inequity and bias in the real estate industry that mean fewer Black families are able to buy and keep their homes.
Keeping a home
Owning a home can be hard. For Keisha Credit keeping her home was even harder.
“When I got the house, it was like, ‘Keisha, don't you lose that house,’” said Credit, an entrepreneur and small business coach based in Seattle’s Central District.
Two years ago, Credit’s grandfather passed away and left her his Central District home. It has been in their family for 54 years.
Credit was fortunate to get the home as an inheritance. According to a recent survey conducted by the Federal Reserve, Black families are less likely to receive an inheritance than white families are, which can help prospective homeowners cover a down payment. Only 26% of Black families received or expected to receive an inheritance, compared to 47% of white families.
The day after her grandfather’s funeral, Credit said she received the first of many letters that were persistent and predatory.
“The next day, up my stairs comes a letter saying, ‘Hey, you know, we heard Dan had passed away. We want to buy your house. We can give you $800,000,'” said Credit.
Eight hundred thousand dollars is a low offer in a neighborhood where some homes are selling for up to $3 million. Credit said she never entertained the idea of selling the home because it was her grandfather’s wish for her to keep it.
“[My grandfather] would always be like, 'At least I own my house,'" Credit said. "It was everything. Like it was his source of comfort. It was his source of peace and stability.”
Seattle story goes viral
As Credit began the massive task of renovating the home, which hadn’t really been updated since it was built in the 1960s, she decided to document her progress on TikTok. Along the way, she shared tidbits about the extremely low and persistent offers she was receiving on the house. Quickly her posts garnered millions of views.
In one of her TikTok videos that has been viewed over 4 million times, she explains, “[People] feel like, ‘Oh, these Black families are going to lose their house as soon as someone passes away, so let me jump in and stake my claim,’ not realizing that some of us know what the f*** is going on and we are not selling.”
Now, Credit is teaching others to spot the scams and tricks used to push people of color into selling their homes.
“There are all these tactics they use to try to scare you to make you feel like you can’t stay on your land,” she said.
But those lowball offers were just the start.
Fake collection notices
Soon Credit’s mailbox was filled with legitimate-looking collection notices claiming she was behind on her property taxes or owed money to the IRS.
“When I started to get letters that would say, ‘Hey, you know, you're getting behind on your taxes,’ I looked into it, because I'm like, ‘Whoa, how did that happen? In this transfer of property was there something I missed?’” said Credit. “And then that's when I understood like, wait a minute. This is not real. Their goal is to either get you into a terrible loan to get you to sign over your house, do some type of reverse mortgage.”
Dr. Angelique Davis, a professor of political science and African American studies at Seattle University, said this practice was "basically fraud."
“I mean, this is completely misleading information," Davis said. "And they are, in many ways, being set up."
She said what happened to Credit may not be illegal, but it is unethical
“These are very predatory practices that are happening. And we've seen the effects of that with gentrification in the Central District in particular,” said Davis.
Credit knows what losing the home would cost her in the long run.
“The generational equity and wealth that has been gained, it will take you twice as long to then get back to where you were as a family and continue to grow. So to think that we can sell now, get something, go somewhere else and continue to multiply that…the opportunities are very low,” she said.
Losing a home
Once that wealth is washed away it’s not easy to start over. Just ask Kateesha Atterberry.
KING 5 Reporter PJ Randhawa met with Atterberry outside the Rainier Beach home she grew up in.
“My room was up top there in the attic. There were a lot of Blacks in this neighborhood. It just brings back a lot of memories,” said Atterberry.
The home had been in her family since the 1960s. However, when Atterberry was a freshman in high school, her parents made a financial decision that would change her life.
“[They got] a bad loan that they were not educated and prepared for when it arrived. So, unfortunately, the house went into foreclosure,” said Atterberry.
The impact was devastating. Atterberry was forced to transfer high schools several times as a result and no longer had a stable home.
“I had plans to go to the UW Foster School of Business, join the gymnastics team and then go to the Olympics. That was my plan and then with the loss of the home, that threw me off that course,” said Atterberry. “I had to stay at my cousin's house, couch surfing, or with multiple people in one apartment or room. And that lasted for many years.”
'Layers of racism'
Data from real estate experts show when it comes to buying a home, the cards are stacked against Black families from the get-go.
According to state data, It can take the average Black household nearly 30 years to save for a down payment. Compared to white borrowers, African Americans are two-and-a-half times more likely to be rejected for a loan.
That’s partly because Black families are more likely to also have student loan debt and higher debt-to-income ratios that banks see as risky for approving loans. Even when Black families are able to buy a home, the roadblocks and disparities pile up.
According to Harvard University, Black families pay higher interest rates than white homeowners even when they’re considered to be "high income," which in this case means earning between $75,000 to $100,000 per year.
Black homes are also appraised to have less value.
Several recent studies show homes in majority Black neighborhoods are often appraised for up to 23% less than comparable homes in white neighborhoods.
“It's just like, these double, triple layers of racism that are happening. So not only are you paying more for a home that's being valued as less, right, and then you're not able to use that to help leverage to build more wealth for you and your family,” said Davis.
“There's so many barriers. When you hear people say, ‘Lift yourself up by your bootstraps,’ what they're not taking into account is the historic implications of being a person of color in this country,” said Atterberry.
Fifteen years after losing her childhood home, Atterberry still does not own her own home. She worries her children will not have the same idyllic childhood she did in this quiet Rainer Beach alcove.
“Almost two decades and still have not been able to regain this,” she said.
Atterberry is the founder and managing director of Urban Black, a community-focused company that develops innovative, sustainable and culturally specific land projects that transform neighborhoods and promote economic value within diverse communities.
“I feel like it's helping the next generation become informed about homeownership, wealth, economics,” said Atterberry.
Back in the Central District, Credit’s TikTok warnings about gentrification, fake property tax bills and Black homeownership have been picked up by national media outlets, including the Dr. Phil Show.
“Every day I'm like, you're not going to let this system win. Because this system is not for you. There was no system built for you. There was no safety net for you. There was nothing in all of these systems, other than your grandpa, that was built for you,” she said.
Credit is hoping to turn the tide by helping Black families navigate the challenges of buying a home, while she fights to keep hers.
“It's not just about your home as a place to stay," Credit said. "It is a generational opportunity. So you better fight for it because it matters.”
Help to buy a home
For those who need help buying a home, check out the list below for links to federal and state programs available to provide assistance.
Fair Housing Act programs
Over the past decade, more than 275,000 Washington families have used FHA-insured mortgages to buy their homes, according to their website.
Find out more about:
Statewide and regional programs
- Community Contacts - Find out if your community offers HUD-funded down payment or closing cost help.
- Washington Department of Commerce HOME program
- Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) - Homebuyer programs, including downpayment and closing cost assistance.
- Habitat for Humanity - Through volunteer labor, builds and rehabilitates houses for families in need.
- Community Frameworks
- USDA Rural Development Office - Homebuyer programs in rural communities.
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling - Get help with budgeting, debt management and credit issues.
- Washington Homeownership Center - A Free information and referral service. Call their Homeownership Hotline at 1 (877) 894-HOME (4663)
- Washington State Community Action Partners - Listed by county, offering various services including homebuyer education and/or downpayment assistance.
- Bellevue/East King County
- City of Everett Office of Community Development & Housing
- City of Seattle Office of Housing
- City of Vancouver Office of Housing & Homelessness
- Community Housing Resource Center - Vancouver and Southwest Washington
- El Centro de la Raza Homeownership Center - Housing counseling, financial literacy, debt and credit management. Classes in English and Spanish.
- HomeSight (Seattle, South King and Snohomish Counties)
- King County Office of Housing & Community Development
- Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority
- Snohomish County
- Benton/Franklin/Walla Walla - Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Tri-Cities
- Benton/Franklin - Benton Franklin Community Action Committee
- Columbia/Garfield/Walla Walla - Blue Mountain Action Council
- Community Frameworks - Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program
- Ferry/Pend Oreille/Stevens - Rural Resources Community Action
- City of Kennewick - HOME Program
- Pasco - Community & Economic Development Dept. (509) 545-3441
- Richland, City of
- City of Spokane Office of Community, Housing & Community Services
- Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs
- Spokane County Office of Community Service, Housing & Community Services
- Whitman - Community Action Center