Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Key measure of city's stability is lagging

Progress modest for blacks

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        African-Americans made modest gains in home-ownership rates in Cincinnati and some suburbs ringing the city over the last decade. But they still significantly trail blacks in other major Ohio cities, according to Census figures released today.

        Community leaders and housing advocates say the city's black home ownership rate of 27 percent — a gain of just 1.1 percentage points from 1990 — remains low and needs to be strengthened through fair lending, better job opportunities and new development in predominately African-American neighborhoods.

[photo] Steven Alexander bought his home in Evanston in May, bucking a trend of middle-income African-Americans moving to newer, suburban housing.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        “I don't think there's been much progress,” said Norma Holt Davis, president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Cincinnati chapter. “It still causes us a lot of concern because home ownership is one of the ways we look at (whether) people have economic empowerment.”

        Cincinnati's overall home ownership rate, 38.9 percent, was essentially unchanged from 1990, despite a decade of prosperity that bolstered the economic fortunes of many U.S. cities. The city's rate, a key indicator of urban stability, is the lowest of major Ohio cities and among the lowest in the nation.

        It's too early to gauge how all of Greater Cincinnati's African-Americans and other groups fared in efforts to achieve the American dream. The Census Bureau has yet to release Kentucky home-ownership rates by race but promises to do so before the end of summer.

        But the city's housing woes — well documented by numerous reports, including the latest Census figures — have politicians searching for a fix.

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken promises development of 1,000 new homes this year to attract wealthy and middle-income suburbanites back to the city. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing a low-interest loan program backed with county funds to allow middle-class owners to repair or refurbish aging homes. And Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley suggests eliminating federal funds for new low-income housing development, arguing the city shoulders more than its fair share of the region's poverty.

        “The city needs to formulate a policy to go out and capture people who want to live in the city,” said Kathy Schwab, who oversees housing efforts for Downtown Cincinnati Inc, a downtown advocacy group. “People really want new housing anywhere and everywhere they can get it.”

        On this much housing experts agree: Blacks and whites tend to leave the city if they can afford pricier suburban homes with modern amenities and bigger yards.

        African-Americans are passing up life in the city for suburbs such as Wyoming, North College Hill and Golf Manor — Hamilton County communities where black home ownership rose substantially in the 1990s.

        The number of homes owned and occupied by white families ballooned in Butler and Warren counties. Though the Census figures do not directly track where people move from, Internal Revenue Service migration data show the largest groups of Warren and Butler newcomers came from Hamilton County and Cincinnati.

        Cincinnati's white population fell during the 1990s by more than 44,700. The number of white people who owned the home they lived in declined by more than 4,000.

        Nevertheless, white families are still much more likely to own their Cincinnati homes than black families are, 48.3 percent vs. 27 percent.

        African-Americans in other major Ohio cities fare much better than Cincinnatians.

        Black home-ownership rates in Dayton, Toledo, Akron and Cleveland all exceed 40 percent, with Columbus hovering nearby at 39.7 percent.

        The results occurred even though the city of Cincinnati and community groups like Housing Opportunities Made Equal have launched numerous programs to encourage black home ownership.

        Rick Williams, president of the Home Ownership Center, said many are leaving because they don't want older homes or lack the funds to repair them.

        “In Cincinnati, (middle-class) African-Americans are choosing to live elsewhere,” Mr. Williams said. “That means we have our work to do.”

        That means encouraging people like Steven Alexander to stay within the city limits.

        Mr. Alexander, a Realtor, recently bought a three-story, five-bedroom home in Evanston. He likes the excitement of the city and the feeling of living in an older home.

        “Once you get these nice strong homes in good condition, people want them,” Mr. Alexander said.

        Yet the trend is for black and white Cincinnati residents to seek a new home north, west or east of the city.

        Perhaps the most dramatic change in home ownership by race over the last decade occurred in Forest Park, a suburb west of Interstate 75 and north of Cincinnati.

        In 1990, whites owned 2,460 homes and blacks owned 1,780. Those numbers reversed in 2000, with blacks owning 2,623 homes and white owner-occupied homes dipping to 1,928.

        Forest Park — which became a black-majority city during the 1990s — was the most popular suburban destination for Greater Cincinnati's African-American home owners, followed by Springfield Township, Colerain Township, Middletown and Silverton.

        African-Americans also made inroads in predominately white suburbs such as Deerfield Township and Mason in Warren County. In 1990, only eight black families owned Mason homes, one of Greater Cincinnati's wealthiest communities. That number, while still proportionally small, jumped to 98 in 2000.

        Ms. Davis said troubling obstacles remain for African American home seekers of all income levels.

        She cited “predatory” lenders who target elderly African-American homeowners, encouraging them to take out high-interest loans that the owners have difficulty repaying. And she said home mortgage disclosure records indicate African-Americans are still rejected more often for home loans than are white people of similar income.

        “It is going to be really helpful when lending institutions are fair,” Ms. Davis said.


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