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Should I stay or should I go? 


Home ownership is much more than having a roof over your head or shelter from the elements. In our national mythos it is perhaps the core component of the American dream and likely the largest purchase most of us will make in the span of a lifetime. For many, it marks a step into adulthood, and all the associated responsibilities and drawbacks.

Even more so, it can be the bedrock of collective wealth and a vehicle for passing on financial stability for future generations.

For Black folks, this rite of passage is all the more meaningful because of the societal stumbling blocks encountered on the path to financial stability.

Paradise (Lost and Found)

“Mrs. Tea” long ago traded the harsh winters for the temperate climate of Southern California when she headed west for a college education in the 1950s. Upon securing a degree and the stability of gainful employment, she decided to stay in this more hospitable environment rather than return to the rigid segregation of her Midwestern roots.

Even so, she quickly realized that other, less obvious restrictions were in place to impede another type of westward movement to the more affluent (read Whiter) western portions of Los Angeles. This was made abundantly clear when she and her new husband made inquiries about renting a charming duplex just west of Crenshaw Boulevard across from the International House of Pancakes on Stocker Avenue.

Happily, she and her spouse overcame these obstacles. In addition to achieving the mantle of home ownership, the couple made a significant climb up the social strata with the purchase of a fashionable abode in the “Black Beverly Hills” of Baldwin Hills, overlooking the L.A. basin. This area had previously been the bastion of mega-car-salesman Cal Worthington and others.

Moving forward through numerous family transitions, a new millennium, and the passage of age, the irony of the past half century gives Tea a sense of amusement as she has noticed the continued change of her neighborhood, with young couples (mostly White) gracing the sidewalks pushing baby strollers.

“They’re reclaiming their own,” she says in observance of this cycle in the latest stage of the new racial migration.

Indeed, property owners in Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, View Park, Windsor Hills and communities therein are regularly inundated with offers to purchase their prime real estate, often by newcomers from beach cities and the far west side who’ve been priced out of their traditional habitats.

Motivations include the prospect of geographic location without long commutes, houses that are stylish and kept-up, and an established residency of upscale professionals. For folks who moved into these now desirable houses that went for under $200,000 in the late 20th Century, the opportunity to make a substantial profit of upwards of seven figures is a more than tempting offer.

Hindsight is always 20/20

As with everything, there are drawbacks. Selling a desirable residence brings with it the possibility that a dwelling will continue to increase in value, appreciation the seller in turn will miss out on.

“Lori” and her sister faced such a dilemma a few years ago, just before housing prices accelerated. With their mother’s passing in 2014, her sister was adamant that they sell her home, situated adjacent to Inglewood. In return, they received the considerable sum of $350,000. Shortly afterwards, property values continued a rapid rise, and now, less than a decade afterwards, the house is worth an estimated $500,000.

In retrospect, Lori wishes she’d taken out a loan and brought her sister out. Additionally, she blames poor selection of a real estate agent who didn’t do adequate research in terms of “comp” (comparative prices of similar homes in the area) and as such, settled for a price far below the market rate.

The value of this particular piece of real estate is almost certain to continue to rise.

“Dorsey” has, over the course of his life, purchased seven properties, and learned through the process of buying each one.

Some years ago, an acquaintance in financial difficulty came to him for advice. In order to pay for his daughter’s education, he decided to refinance his home. This in turn led to economic difficulties wherein he found himself in hock for (monthly) payments he could not meet.

Dorsey was able to direct him to a reputable mortgage broker who provided a “parachute” of sorts, wherein he was able to sell his home in one of Los Angeles’ more desirable neighborhoods to get out of debt, and relocated with enough money to secure another residence, an attractive abode in the Inland Empire. Not all such scenarios (and there are many) have an upbeat ending.

Dorsey states that this was a problem steeped in financial illiteracy. His friend got into trouble by accepting a “hard money loan” (conceived by those not affiliated with reputable realtors) secured by “real property (in this case, his house),” which is harder to pay back. In worse case scenarios he could have actually lost his house.

“Why would you agree to monthly payments you could not make in the first place?” he wondered.

A millennium re-mix

For Tea, fortune has smiled upon her in that she has enjoyed her residency in a house that has remarkably not been plagued by the pesky annoyances of major repairs that are a byproduct of home ownership. Yet and still, the offer of substantial reimbursement on her initial investment has given her pause on occasion.

After weighing the possibility of downsizing and moving on perhaps to a condominium or townhouse, with the idea that she could face association fees for the upkeep of common areas and so on, Tea has decided to stay with the tried and true.

One thing that has not been covered in this discussion about selling or not selling is the evaporation of Black life in the central city. Ironically, this continued shift of populations regardless of race, creed, or color, has, at its center, the quest for quality of life.

The African-American push for integration and acceptance into larger society has been part of the quest for a better life and a brighter future. Conversely, it may be argued that the White resistance for Black inclusion has, at its core, been fear of erosion of an established lifestyle. Today, generations after the cultural stratification that underscored that last century, we are having the same conversation with a different twist.

Black home ownership, on the rise for many years, has in turn taken a dramatic dip according to nearly every research group, think tank and survey organization tracking data on such matters. Exact reasons for this remain as elusive as ever, with the shortage of housing for all races continuing to mushroom with no signs of abating.

Indeed, it is a central issue in nearly all the political elections at the local, state, and national levels in the foreseeable future.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.