The Racial Wealth Gap: “Blacks surf the Tsunami”

My family’s property ownership in Nashville, TN extends as far back as 1866 when Fisk University was founded. My foster grandmother’s grandparents were interracial (and therefore “illegally” married) property owners and “passed” for white property owners. I can name every family on my childhood street such as the Cooks, Seng Sengs, Martins, Yeargins, Coles, Mrs. Blanton and Ms. Mary D. Shane (of Shane Hall at Fisk University). My parents, family members, and neighbors built their homes brick by brick in our black neighborhood, despite never really having the same access to loans at fair rates that whites (still) have. Therefore, many of my neighbors depended heavily on each other for help. My family and our neighbors were both professionals and blue-collar workers whose homes are now in the hands of us (their children and grandchildren). Those grandparents scrutinize our choices to make sure we fight discrimination while making choices to sell, rent, rehab, demolish/rebuild or even do short-term rentals (like Airbnb). We are those people who were discriminated against with Jim Crow laws, Black Codes, Poll Taxes, and gentrification and now it’s happening again.

Much of Americans’ net worth is in their homes, but there are significant disparities between that of Black Americans and that of White Americans with regard to owning a home and property value. Home values are disproportionately valued lower for black families. The wealth disparities did not begin with the 2007-2009 Housing Crisis or the Great Recession. Blacks overall have faced more than two centuries of deliberate and structured barriers to wealth building and most of those barriers were purposely embedded in local policies and in the federal laws. Although slavery was legally eradicated in 1865, African-Amer-icans have consistently been barred from equitable pay, denied loans when earning similar pay, diverted from stake-in-land giveaways, had neighborhoods targeted for ‘urban renewal’ and gentrification, and watched our housing options disappear by redlining and bills that take away our rights to choose to exploit our own properties the SAME way whites have in our own traditionally black neighborhoods.

The color of wealth is tied to home ownership, value, and the ability to build generational wealth and racial disparities. Our opportunities for generational wealth are attainable through home ownership. We can take advantage of the same development opportunities of properties that we ALREADY OWN and use the short-term rental permits as an avenue to RETAIN/ REGAIN power in our neighborhoods.Black families are very close to being denied one of the easiest opportunities to build generational wealth in our own neighborhoods. A movement brought by white neighborhood associations and the hotel industry seeking to remove short-term rental permits in all RM zoning.

I was a DC resident for 14 years and feel comfortable discussing the subjects of gentrification, wealth building in Black neighborhoods because it wasn’t too different than growing up, matriculating and earning my diploma and degree from Pearl-Cohn and Fisk University. I was employed at Meharry Medical College, Howard Univer-sity and the now defunct Southeastern University. While the demographic shift brings some benefits to our neighborhoods, it also causes displacement of our people, Black people. It causes property values to soar, followed by a sharp increase in taxes, followed by a purposeful decline in property values of black homeowners who refuse to sell to white land developers buying low and selling high. As a result, many of us black homeowners, our black grandparents and black grandchildren are now in crisis.

I have confidence that we can save those who are in crisis by providing more options like partnering with developers that will eventually negotiate with us, so that black homeowners can also get new homes built on our properties. I suggestedto a developerthat we partner TOGETHER, so that I can KEEP halfof my property and add 2 beautiful homes and increase our family property’s worth by almost 4 times what they offered me to sell and leave. What if we ALL did that? We can do more than take a lifeline (quick cash), be smarter and help our own grandchildren…in our own neighborhoods.

WE can surf the tsunami or get pushed away by it! We need our council to VOTE NO on BL2019-1633 and let us retain that power with the developers.