Generations of intentional segregation have left scars on our communities.
This section exposes the deep-rooted problems in our housing market that are unjustly borne by Black and Brown Virginians.
Economic inequality continues to divide Virginians along lines of race and geography. Housing distress from the 2008 recession and now the COVID-19 recession will last for years to come, and the legacy of institutional racism has deeply impacted our economic institutions. By almost every measure, economic inequality has dramatically increased, leading to growing housing instability. Virginia’s demand for affordable housing and equitable access to homeownership is higher than ever amidst population increases and aging infrastructure across the Commonwealth. While the issues of housing and affordability are complex, five major impacts persist today.
Since 1970, the income disparity between Black and non-Black Virginians has remained largely unchanged. For the last 50 years, the median family income for Black Virginians has hovered around 70% of Virginia’s total median family income, and in 2018, the median household income for Black Virginians was $61,923,— less than two-thirds that of non-Latin American white families. This gap has only widened due the effects of the pandemic, with workers in the lowest average wage occupations hit the hardest, and still suffering long after other industries have recovered.
To close these persistent labor market gaps, Black families need more wealth to begin with, which would make it easier to invest in future opportunities. For example, wealth can be used to support both children’s and parents’ education, to start a business, to buy a house in a neighborhood with access to good jobs, and to move to new places when better opportunities arise; each of these benefits gives families access to more and better jobs.
Housing cost burden
The cost of living is rapidly outpacing income across the state. Among Virginia’s lowest-income households, both renters and homeowners spend around 60% of their income on housing costs. High housing costs force many households to reduce their spending on food, health care, transportation, and other necessities, limiting their ability to save for a rainy day. The disparity between income and housing costs exists throughout Virginia, including urban, suburban, and rural areas—consistent with long-standing national trends.
Rental cost burden is particularly acute in communities of color, with 52.8% of all Black and Latin American renters cost-burdened (paying 30-50% of their income) or severely cost-burdened (paying more than 50% of their income). Cost-burdened renter households are having a more difficult time saving and building wealth today, which may impact their chances of becoming future homeowners and building new generational equity.
The COVID-19 pandemic caught Virginia in the midst of a pre-existing eviction crisis. Data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which tracks nationwide eviction rates, revealed Virginia to have four of the the top six eviction rates among large cities (Richmond, Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton).
The intensity of this crisis has been uneven across our communities. Black and Latin American renters in general, and women in particular, are disproportionately threatened with eviction due to income inequality and housing cost burden. Renters of color and women are thus more exposed to the numerous documented negative consequences of eviction, ranging from homelessness and financial hardship to job loss and depression. As tenant protections have expired and funds for emergency rental assistance are drying up, post-pandemic evictions are once again surging all over the country and within Virginia.
Another barrier to finding housing is the common practice of performing background screenings during the rental application process, disqualifying many renters who have faced housing instability in the past from improving their situation. Expunging or sealing eviction court records is one way states can remove barriers to stable housing. The destabilizing effects of eviction can be seen as both a result of and a cause of systemic poverty, continuing multi-generational cycles of poverty and hardship.
Low minority homeownership rates
More than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act passed, Black and Latin American families still face substantial barriers to homeownership. Both the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately harmed the economic and physical health of these communities, leading to foreclosures and a lack of generational capital to invest into housing. Since 2001, the Black homeownership rate has seen the most dramatic drop of any racial or ethnic group, declining 5%, compared with a 1% decline for white families.
Although Virginia’s minority homeownership gap is the fifth smallest among all states, it remains far too wide. Only 48% of Black households in Virginia own their home compared to 73% of their white counterparts—a 25-point difference. With home equity being the largest source of wealth generation for middle-class Americans, the racial homeownership gap is a principal contributor to the large wealth gap that separates white and Black Virginians.
Segregation persists through exclusionary zoning
Through the establishment of low-density residential zoning districts, referred to as “exclusionary zoning,” zoning creates regulatory barriers to housing affordability and ultimately separates people by levels of wealth and income. Exclusionary zoning worsens economic segregation by reducing overall housing production and the percentage of multifamily units in many suburbs. Simply put, the wealth disparity between white and minority populations maintains racial segregation through the built environment.
Zoning efforts that began 100 years ago are still impacting patterns of racial and economic segregation in communities. However, due to housing affordability pressures and a growing recognition of this history, there is movement in our state and communities to undo some of these systems. A number of important organizations across the state, including McGuire Woods and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), have released reports on the history of zoning and segregation in Virginia and the legacy of systemic racism preserved by zoning, including recommendations for policy reform.