If they buy at all, African-Americans look outside city core

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cheryl Roberts of the African American Alliance for Homeownership wants more blacks to invest in homes instead of giving their money to landlords. Portland is continuing to lose African-American homeowners, despite a recovery in the city’s housing market.

The latest U.S. Census data show only 29.5 percent of black households in Portland owned their homes in 2012, down from 32.4 percent in 2010 and 38.2 percent in 2000. Collectively, blacks owned 4,199 homes in Portland in 2012, down from 4,626 in 2010 and 5,044 in 2000.

What’s more, fewer blacks are even seeking mortgages. Only 95 African-American couples or families applied for home-purchase mortgages in all of Multnomah County in 2012, a paltry 1.5 percent of the total, according to federal data. Six years earlier, before the housing bubble popped, 575 black families or individuals applied for home-purchase loans in the county.

The loss of hundreds of black homeowners means Portland is reducing its already small base of middle-class African-Americans. It’s also a sign that remaining

African-American families are losing a time-tested way to stabilize their finances while building assets for retirement or economic and social advancement, says Tom Cusack, a retired federal housing official who publishes The Oregon Housing Blog.

“What are you going to do to accumulate wealth?” Cusack wonders. “You’re not going to get rich or pass along money by putting money into a 1 percent CD.”

The longer young minority families wait to buy homes, he says, the longer it will take to close the wealth gap with white families.

The African American Alliance for Homeownership is hosting a fair Saturday to promote interest in home buying. Its pitch: someone paying $900 a month in rent will shell out $216,000 over 20 years — plus rent increases over that period. The alliance wants more African-Americans to consider investing that sum into a new home rather than handing it over to a landlord.

It’s a good time to buy, says Cheryl Roberts, executive director of the nonprofit group, because interest rates remain low while rents are increasing quickly.

In past years, groups promoting black homeownership would have staged their event in inner North or Northeast Portland. But this one will be in Lents.

“The majority of the new homeowners, mind you, they’re going to be purchasing in East Portland, or maybe in Gresham or Vancouver,” Roberts says.

Down across the board

Since the Great Recession, fewer Americans of all stripes own their own homes. The national homeownership rate has dropped nine years in a row, according to a new report by the Joint Center for

Housing Studies of Harvard University.

In Beaverton in 2010, the overall homeownership rate dropped below 50 percent for the first time in memory, says Cusack, a keen observer here for more than 30 years.

But blacks were hit disproportionately by foreclosures after the housing bubble burst, and many of them are still stuck with high-interest loans that make them more prone to losing their homes. “I certainly think that’s the most plausible explanation of what’s going on,” Cusack says of the continuing slide in black homeownership here.

He found that the African-American homeownership rate in the city of Portland dropped more than twice as fast as the white homeownership rate from 2010 to 2012.

Banks more picky

In the wake of the Great Recession — triggered by excesses in home-mortgage lending standards — banks have tightened their lending requirements, making it harder for people to qualify for mortgages.

“That tends to hit people more at the bottom who have the lowest credit scores than the people at the top,” says Cusack, who directed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Portland for 10 years, and directed the Federal Housing Administration here another 10 years.

And the inner North and Northeast neighborhoods that once housed most of Oregon’s black population have rapidly gentrified, forcing many home buyers to look elsewhere.

Census figures show there were 380 homes owned by African-Americans in Gresham in 2012, double the number just two years earlier. There also was a significant increase in Beaverton. “A lot of our folks have moved to Vancouver” as well, Roberts says.

The African American Alliance for Homeownership and allied groups have devoted considerable energy in recent years to keep existing homeowners from losing their homes.

“We’re still in that crisis,” Roberts says.

Some of her clients have been trying to refinance their mortgages for three years, and are still waiting.

Sense of resignation

Cusack is disturbed that public policymakers, who have long made it a priority to close the homeownership gap between whites and blacks and Latinos, now seem resigned that it’s too tall of an order. “It’s more of a passive thing of ‘that’s just the way it is, and we can’t do anything about it,’ ” he says.

Because of changing demographics and economic trends, the city of Portland now projects that 80 percent of the new housing built within the city in the next decade will be multifamily. Though some of those units may be condos, city planners predict that a higher share of Portlanders will be renters in coming years.

Many African-Americans saw how their families and neighbors lost their homes to foreclosure, and are spooked by the idea of buying homes. Observers detect a sense of resignation stemming from past discriminatory treatment by lenders and other racist treatment in Portland and, more recently, displacement due to gentrification.

Roberts sees signs, though, of blacks in their 30s who are saying “enough is enough.”

“There’s a new generation that’s coming that doesn’t want to accept that,” Roberts says. They want to be the first generation in their family to own homes.

Minorities by the numbers

Portland homeownership rates for blacks

2000: 38.2%

2010: 32.4%

2012: 29.5%

Portland black households that owned their homes

2000: 5,044

2010: 4,625

2012: 4,199

Sources: 2000 and 2010 data, U.S. Census; 2012 data, American Community Surveys for 2010, 2011 and 2012)

Fewer local minorities

seek to buy homes

• In 2006, 575 black couples or individuals applied for mortgages to buy homes in Multnomah County, 3.1% of the total

• In 2012, 95 black couples or individuals applied for mortgages to buy homes in Multnomah County, 1.5% of the total

• In 2006, 1,434 Latino couples or individuals applied for mortgages to buy homes in Multnomah County, 7.8% of the total

• In 2012, 214 Latino couples or individuals applied for mortgages to buy homes in Multnomah County, 3.3% of the total

Source: Portland Housing Bureau based on data required by federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act

More minorities denied home loans

Multnomah County applicants for home-purchase loans who were denied mortgages in, 2012:

Native Americans: 15.6%

Blacks: 14.7%

Asians: 11.7%

Latinos: 11.2%

Whites: 6.9%

Source: Portland Housing Bureau based on data required by federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act

House-buying fair

The East Portland Housing and Resource Festival, sponsored by the African American Alliance for Homeownership, takes place from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, at Lents Park, Southeast 92nd Avenue and Holgate Boulevard.

There will be a bus tour of homes for sale in the Lents area; booths hosted by home lenders and housing nonprofits; live music; food stalls; and a kids play area.

For more information:

Other resources:

The Portland Housing Center offers a variety of programs to help budding homeowners, including a financial education program tailored for blacks called Getting your House in Order.

The next session begins Oct. 7. To register, call Dana Ingram at 503-797-4014.

For more information: