The Cost of Homeownership and Gentrification Are Keeping Black Millennials Out of Local Politics

For younger Black families, participating in local politics presents an uphill battle. From rising housing prices to gentrification and economic uncertainty, Black families are stretched thin.

Portrait of family in front of home
Photo: Getty Image

If you're a millennial you've probably been told that you should care more about politics, especially locally. Older generations often chastise younger generations for not protesting or investing in local politics in a way they deem acceptable. And established politicians don't believe online activism has the same validity as the ballot box. To some degree, they are correct. But participating in local politics for younger Black families presents an uphill battle. From rising housing prices to gentrification and economic uncertainty, Black families are stretched thin.

Moving Backwards

The days of multigenerational Black neighborhoods seem to be long gone, thanks to gentrification. Remember block club parties? Or the elders who watched your parents grow up who also kept an eye on you as you played outside? It's hard to believe families were able to not only buy homes back in the day but were able to live off one income, as well.

In 2022, there are fewer Black homeowners now than there were a decade ago. Recent rates of Black homeownership mirror those of the 1960s, when private race-based discrimination was still legal. With Black homeownership declining, how are Black millennial families expected to thrive, build wealth, and, in turn, engage politically in their communities? Nasdaq recently reported that an economic recession could be looming soon, which would allow qualified first-time homeowners to purchase. But even if the housing market cools down, will Black millennial families benefit in the same ways as white families do from homeownership?

The Battle Begins in PTA Meetings

Dr. Marcus Casey, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) whose research centers on urban, labor, and public economics, confirms that "homeownership has been a catalyst for Black political involvement." He also says gentrification changed the composition of cities which results in areas changing their priorities. Dr. Casey says that when Black families are uprooted from inner-city neighborhoods and find themselves living in suburbs, or adjacent to suburbs, those families and neighborhoods create a new political dynamic.

"It does have a lot of effect on local politics because if you have, transiently, Black people moving into suburban areas [with] smaller municipalities that don't have nearly as much power as they had when they constituted a large segment of the central cities [and] that is going to change the nature of local politics," says Dr. Casey.

Dr. Casey says that Black families still haven't recovered from the Great Recession of 2007 like other families have, and those consequences have continued to impact local politics today.

Even families that are ready to be first-time homeowners face the reality that there are not enough homes being built, according to Dr. Casey. He makes the case that the government has to build new homes, especially in areas where job growth is booming which is essential to Black families.

Lately, we've seen how non-Black parents have used local political spaces, like Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), to push back against the anti-racism curriculum. In Virginia, a former PTA official resigned after her let them die" comments surfaced. School boards across America are being turned into cultural war battlegrounds, and the majority of voices in these incidents are white parents.

With housing prices being up as much as 30% in some cities, it's hard for a lot of Black families that rent to engage in local politics in places where they don't see themselves living for long. However, some parents are making it work despite not being homeowners. Black parents are choosing to engage in their local PTAs and other organizations that have more of an instant impact on their families and communities.

Tshaka Armstrong lives in Encino, California with his wife and three kids. He recalled his experience working with his local PTA when his children attended school. He immediately noticed that the members of his local PTA were clique-ish and catty.

He also says he lived in a mostly white neighborhood and, being a Black man, says he gave the other parents a point of view that they lacked. "The first thing I personally noticed was the lack of men of any race at these meetings," says Armstrong. "I think that part of the reason these meetings go in the direction they do is a lack of balance."

He doesn't think that Black families necessarily need to own homes to be involved in their communities and fight systemic racism at a local level, but once they want to go further, things change.

"Regardless of whether we rent or own, we're all stakeholders, so I don't think homeownership is of paramount importance at the local PTA level. At the political level and in local government, it is extremely important that we are homeowners," says Armstrong. "This nation has spent years taking land and homes away from us and doing everything in their power to minimize our political impact which nullifies our political, economic, and educational empowerment."

Taking a Stand

Augusta Massey, a co-founder of the African Diaspora of Las Vegas, an organization that encourages community-building in Las Vegas with people of African descent, is a mother, author, and wife who's running for Las Vegas Justice Court Dept. 6. She's endured the loss of loved ones to violence in Africa and America and decided to take matters into her own hands.

"As a young, Black, immigrant woman, it was super important to be involved in politics on the local level because representation matters at every level. I am running to be a judge in the justice court. This is the court that impacts people's daily lives on a micro-level," says Massey. If elected she will be working on the local issues, such as landlord-tenant eviction cases, traffic tickets, and criminal matters which all affect Black communities. Massey is also a first-time homebuyer and recognized that buying a home was important to the role she plays in her community.

But what about the rest of us?

Asia Thomas is a single mother, entrepreneur, and realtor in Duluth, Georgia. She's seen housing policies and lenders handle Black families who are first-time homebuyers first-hand. "It is well-known that our community has suffered, and falls behind other races significantly when it comes to ownership due to redlining, mortgage denials, to low property appraisals, " says Thomas.

Uprooting Black families has had a lasting impact on our communities. The familiarity that a lot of us have worked so hard to build intra-community-wise has been obliterated by gentrification and now, those same neighborhoods we called home are almost unrecognizable.

"Gentrification in predominantly Black communities is used to wash out areas with a supposed high crime rate, and build properties valued at more than three or four times the amount to increase the property value. We either have the money to stay and buy-in, or we do not and are offered a buy-out for the properties we already own in those areas, " says Thomas.

Dr. Marcus Casey says that though he isn't optimistic about the future of Black homeownership—and, in turn, the future of Black families in local politics—he does believe there are viable solutions. He notes that recently the Biden administration put together an agenda to combat the housing supply issue and explained that "curbing some of the inflation and major things like medical care and education" can also reposition Black families for the better. But, ultimately, a lack of involvement in local politics because of a lack of homeownership, is part of a larger issue.

"A lot of the problems that are facing Black families, in particular, are actually systemic [and] if we don't have any sort of real policy intervention, I think it's going to be difficult going forward, especially for Black millennials," says Dr. Casey.

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