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Racial bias devalues black neighborhoods in Md. and beyond

The House of Delegates publicly censured Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti for her use of a racial slur, which members said “brought dishonor to the entire General Assembly of Maryland.” After the vote, the Democrat said she would not resign. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

The Washington Post reported last month that Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti called Prince George’s County, which is 62 percent black, an “[n-word] district.” Maryland’s House of Delegates has since censured Ms. Lisanti and multiple people and entities — including Gov. Larry Hogan and the state’s Legislative Black Caucus — have called for her resignation.

Ms. Lisanti is not the first elected official to be caught using a racial slur when describing black-majority regions, and unfortunately, she likely will not be the last — a simple reality that reflects the struggles black-majority cities and neighborhoods across America face.

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Racism poisons the well for investment and growth in all black spaces. In researching the issue, Jonathan Rothwell of Gallup and David Harshbarger of Brookings and I found that racial bias devalues homes in majority-black areas like Prince George’s County, robbing municipalities of tax revenue and individual families of the wealth that helps them withstand unavoidable economic shocks.

After controlling for factors such as housing quality, neighborhood quality, education and crime, we found that owner-occupied homes in black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average ($34,476 in the Baltimore metro area), amounting to a whopping $156 billion in cumulative losses.

To put that in perspective: $156 billion could have launched 4.4 million black-owned businesses, based on the average amount of funds African Americans use to start a company, and it could have paid for 8.1 million four-year degrees based on the average tuition of public universities. These are real wealth-building opportunities that could have catapulted the black population to greater heights. $156 billion could have replaced pipes in Flint, Mich., nearly 3,000 times over and paid for the nearly all (97 percent) of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Black-majority cities are here to stay, but the attitudes and policies behind racist comments must dissipate if we want to economic and social growth. American cities in which blacks constitute a majority of the population are on the rise because of shifts within and between regions and metropolitan areas. Such black-majority regions — which include cities, towns and other census-designated places — numbered 460 at the 1970 census; 1,148 by the 2010 census, and as of 2017 census estimates, there are now 1,262 black-majority cities, an increase of more than 100 such cities during this decade alone.

(KAL/Baltimore Sun)

All told, black-majority neighborhoods hold $609 billion in owner-occupied housing assets and are home to approximately 10,000 public schools and over 3 million businesses, according to our analysis — assets worth building upon, investing in and fighting for.

And many areas are successful, in spite of persistent racial bias. A national map of black-majority cities, ranked by median household incomes of black families, shows that 124 communities outpace the national median household income for all races ($53,889), according to data from the 2015 American Community Survey. Black families are especially thriving in various cities in Maryland, which hosts more than half of the 124.

The development and growth of black-majority cities presents an opportunity for America. Recognizing the worth of black-majority cities will test our nation’s ability to build upon the strengths that diverse communities provide, so we can all grow positively into our inevitable, collective future.

Ironically, what Ms. Lisanti doesn’t seem to get is with 64 percent of Harford County’s black population living in her own legislative district, she’s not only hurting her constituents with her bias, she’s hurting herself.

Andre Perry (aperry@brookings.edu) is a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

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