Housing discrimination was outlawed in 1968. But Wichita’s Black-white homeownership gap persists.

By Celia Hack | KMUW

A new report by Today’s Homeowner found white homeownership was about 29 percentage points higher than Black homeownership in Wichita in 2021.

Six chickens – and one duck – in Stephanie Smith’s backyard flock toward her, squawking, when she steps outside.

“‘That’s my little girl … She’s a sweetheart.”

One of the chickens flutters onto Smith’s hand when she holds it out.

“C’mere mama, c’mere.”

The birds are one of Smith’s favorite parts of her new home near 53rd and I-135. It has plenty of land for fowl, a big garden and someday, possibly, a horse.

The Smiths were able to start raising chickens at the new home they bought.

But when Stephanie and her wife, Precious, bought the home in December 2021, they said the process was marred by racism. The sellers of the house initially accepted a bid from the Smiths. Then, Precious said they wanted to cancel the sale after her middle name – Jewel – was added to the original documents.

“I feel like somewhere, someone googled my name, and all of a sudden it was, ‘We don’t want them in our neighborhood,’” Precious said. “Or, ‘We don’t want to sell them this house.’”

Precious and Stephanie are both Black. Precious said their experience buying a home could be one of the reasons that homeownership in Wichita does not happen as frequently for Black families.

Today, in Kansas, white people are about twice as likely as Black families to own a home, the highest gap of any race that was studied, according to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

And in Wichita, about 64% of white households own a home compared to about 35% of Black households, according to a February report by Today’s Homeowner. Since 2010, that gap has closed by about 2 percentage points.

Before the Great Recession in 2008, homeownership was trending upward for Black families nationwide. But that economic blow reversed some of the progress.

“It becomes sort of a cyclical pattern where one group has less access to homes, so they have less access to wealth,” said Shadi Bushra, the author of the report in Today’s Homeowner. “And having less access to wealth makes it harder for you and generations that follow you to get a home.”

Redlining sets

The Smiths continued to pursue buying the house, and Precious later went to visit it with a contractor and her Realtor, Ashley Collins.

As they were leaving, Precious and Collins said the police were called out of concern they were breaking into the home.

“It could have been a different experience had we not all just been standing outside, waiting for the police to come,” said Collins, who is also Black. “… A much more dangerous experience.”

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing based on race and other factors. But some say historical discrimination is still relevant to the homeownership gap between Black and white families.

“I think one thing that I would attribute it to is the history of really strong redlining that we have in Wichita,” said Gentry Thiesen, the government affairs director for Realtors of South Central Kansas.

The federal government “redlined” communities in the 1930s by mapping out which areas of the city were desirable for mortgage lenders and which were not. Areas with Black populations were typically marked as less desirable – and outlined in red.

A map from 1937 shows how Wichita was redlined.

That meant homebuyers in redlined neighborhoods typically had to have cash instead of a loan, according to Stan Longhofer, the director of Wichita State University’s Center for Real Estate.

“Who had the cash?” Longhofer said. “Generally wealthier people, often white, who would buy the homes to turn them into rentals.”

Much of Wichita’s city-center was redlined, roughly from the Arkansas River to Hillside running east and west and from Pawnee to 25th Street running north and south. The ZIP code with the largest Black population, 67214, was almost entirely redlined. Today, it has the lowest homeownership rate in the city, outside of downtown Wichita.

Current challenges

Longhofer says the primary reason for the current homeownership gap is differences in key financial indicators across races.

Young adults in Black and Hispanic communities also have lower average credit scores than those in white communities, which can make it more difficult to get a mortgage. In Wichita, Black and Hispanic or Latino mortgage applicants were twice as likely as white applicants to have their application denied at the highest income levels.

“From a lender’s perspective, race is not a considering factor or determination of whether a person qualifies for a loan or not. But obviously there is a gap,” said Moji Rosson, director of Growth Strategies and Community Impact at Meritrust Credit Union.

Black families, on average, have less wealth, which means there are less homes they can afford to buy.

“The lack of generational wealth that’s being transferred in some of these historically underrepresented communities … can make it difficult for them to have readily available funds and access to money that would be necessary for a down payment,” Rosson said.

Realtor Brenda Bradley said that for many of her clients, financial history like credit checks or having cash for a down payment are the biggest challenges to buying a house. To account for this, Bradley said she’s familiarized herself with different government and nonprofit programs that help new homeowners.

“I knew when I became a Realtor, I had to find the money,” Bradley said. “Because … my clients would have the down payment or they’d have the closing costs, but it was rare if they had both.”

But Longhofer says the racial gap in homeownership cannot all be explained by differences in financial indicators.

“There is a racial legacy factor that still is meaningful and a challenge,” Longhofer said. “And how you address that and how you fix that has been something that I think we’ve really, really struggled with.”

2022 survey by the National Association of Realtors found approximately one-third of Black potential home buyers say they faced discrimination during the home buying process.

Bradley said that one difference she sees is that many of her Black clients have never owned a home before, and neither had their families before them.

“I feel like being prepared, understanding what equity is, all of those things go into buying a house,” Bradley said. “And some of us may be more prepared than others.

“If you grew up in a home where your parents bought their house and your grandparents bought their house, then in your mind, it’s a given – you’re going to buy a house. But if you grew up in a family and everybody rented … Are you really thinking – buy a house?”

Closing the homeownership gap between all races is a priority for the Realtors of South Central Kansas, Thiesen said. The organization started a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee in 2021. In February, the committee held a meeting for Realtors on implicit bias and how it shows up in real estate.

Outside of this, Thiesen said making homes more affordable in whatever ways possible is vital to increasing homeownership among minority groups – by increasing the housing supply, increasing density or less restrictive zoning.

But for some, like Precious, the experience is already set. She said she filed a fair housing complaint in 2021, though hasn’t heard back yet.

“In Wichita, if you don’t live in one of those specifically, predominantly Black areas, it’s gate-kept,” Precious said. “I feel like if they had known I was Black prior to buying this house or prior to accepting my offer, they wouldn’t have accepted it.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW