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Homeownership, Race, and the American Dream

Stuart A. Gabriel, Stuart S. Rosenthal
In recent years, much of U.S. federal housing policy has focused on two complimentary goals: to increase U.S. homeownership rates while also narrowing enormous and longstanding racial gaps in homeownership. Against this backdrop, the U.S. homeownership rate rose to historic highs in the 1990s, reaching 67.3 percent in 2001, but substantial racial gaps persist. This paper uses data from six years of the Survey of Consumer Finances to analyze these patterns. Findings indicate that household socioeconomic characteristics explain nearly all of the gain in homeownership in the 1990s. These factors also explain all but 8 of the 26 percentage point white-black gap in homeownership in 2001 and all but 12 of the 28 percentage point white-Hispanic gap. Of the remaining "unexplained" white-minority gap in homeownership, credit barriers account for no more than 5 percentage points in all of the survey years from 1983 to 2001. These findings suggest that policy makers will need to look beyond mortgage market innovation if their goals are to substantially increase homeownership rates while also reducing racial disparities in homeownership.