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Across America, home prices rose by an average of 45 percent between 2001 and 2014, according to data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, compiled by the District, Measured blog from the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis. In that same time period, prices more than tripled in D.C.
It’s no surprise, then, that D.C. wasn’t exempt from the decline in homeownership that affected the whole country. Nationally, the homeownership rate dropped from 70 percent to 67 percent over those 13 years; in D.C., the rate declined from 48 percent to 44 percent, although that drop occurred entirely between 2013 and 2014, according to the data.
But the decline in homeownership wasn’t distributed equally across income levels. The highest-income 25 percent of D.C. residents saw a slight reduction in homeownership, from 77 to 72 percent. The middle quartiles actually stayed at the same homeownership rate of 43 percent.
Among the lowest-income 25 percent of residents, however, the drop was severe. In 2001, the share of those households that owned their homes was 31 percent. By 2014, that figure had dropped to 19 percent. And unlike the higher-income groups, this category of Washingtonians saw a steady decline over the 13-year period.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. The housing-market crash that triggered the recession was caused in part by excessive mortgage lending to people who couldn’t really afford their homes. Perhaps it’s not economically stable to have such high rates of homeownership among low-income residents.
But politicians continually point to homeownership as a key to economic advancement, whether through appreciation and security or simply through the forced savings that come with paying a mortgage. The late Marion Barry made homeownership a centerpiece of his agenda for Ward 8, which has the city’s lowest homeownership rate, going so far as to propose a ban on new apartment buildings in his ward.
“The American dream is to own a home,” Barry said at the time. “And black people have not gotten the American dream as much as they need to. Somebody can rent for 20 years, and has no equity in their unit at all.”
But despite all his talk about boosting homeownership, the fact is that the numbers moved in the opposite direction, in the city overall and particularly among its poorest residents. Homeownership has become just another data point in D.C.’s stubbornly persistent segregation.
Charts via District, Measured