What does the USDA call “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss”?
If you’re concerned about the racial wealth gap, here’s a key driver: heirs’ property ownership. It’s a land inheritance mechanism common to African Americans and vulnerable to property right contestation.
A recent New Yorker article explores the use and exploitation of heirs’ property. According to the article, “A third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars, is owned as heirs ‘property . . . A group of economists and statisticians recently calculated that, since 1910, black families have been stripped of hundreds of billions of dollars because of lost land.”
Heirs’ property is attractive to developers and others able to exploit its legal vulnerabilities. The continued, sustained loss of black wealth in this country is not straightforward, much like this obscure legal structure. As a legally permissible structure, however, it is a serious condition that requires policy redress.
Photo of a North Carolina resident facing the loss of her land due to heirs’ property.
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