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Preventing Home Loss & Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

According to a new National Consumer Law Center report, increasing home costs, economic crises, and persistent structural barriers to fair housing have all contributed in some way to a widening homeownership gap between white households and households of color—especially Black households. 

As a result of this finding, advocates have been working with policymakers by devoting considerable attention to increasing access to homeownership for first-time homebuyers of color. 

But another new report looks at reducing the racial wealth gap in another way, by slowing the rate of home loss in communities of color through heirs property. 

The report, entitled “Keeping It In The Family: Legal Strategies to Address the Challenge of Heirs Property and Prevent Home Loss” analyzes current policies and laws aimed at helping owners of heirs property. “Heirs property” describes a form of property ownership that arises when several heirs inherit a home but have not completed the probate process to clarify title. Over successive generations of unclear title, this can lead to dozens of heirs with an increasingly fractional ownership interest in a home. 

“Protecting heirs property owners from losing their homes and increasing avenues for families to obtain a clear title will help to reduce the racial wealth gap,” said Nketiah “Ink” Berko, Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by the Rossotti Foundation, at the National Consumer Law Center. “Some studies estimate that more than half the real property owned by Black Americans is owned as heirs property, threatening the physical and financial security of Black families.” 

The blight of of heirs is disproportionately experienced in communities of color. Due to both historical abuses from and a present day lack of access to the legal system, Black Americans are significantly less likely than their white counterparts to have a will. 

The status of heirs property threatens both the physical and financial security of family members. If unable to prove legitimate claim to a title, heirs property owners are often excluded from property tax relief programs and disaster relief funds. A contested title may also bar heirs property owners from obtaining homeowners insurance or receiving home repair grants and loans, rendering residents ineligible and threatening them with displacement causing further blight to their neighborhoods. 

The report identifies and analyzes three categories of legal interventions that have been adopted in jurisdictions across the country to stem the tide of home loss and equity theft related to heirs property status:  

  • Prevent immediate land loss;  
  • Resolve heirs property and clarifying ownership status; and  
  • Prevent heirs property from occurring in the future.  

The report provides additional recommendations for states to tackle home loss.  

“This problem calls for concerted action on multiple fronts: to protect heirs from home loss, resolve and clarify fractured ownership, and prevent future heirs property from developing,” said Sarah Bolling Mancini, co-director of advocacy at the National Consumer Law Center and co-author of the report. “Enacting these kinds of laws at the state level is extremely important. These legal and policy strategies, deployed together, can make a meaningful difference in eliminating the racial wealth gap and tackling the problem of heirs property.” 

To view a webinar on this topic, click here. 

About Author: Kyle G. Horst

Kyle Horst
Kyle G. Horst is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of the University of Texas at Tyler, he has worked for a number of daily, weekly, and monthly publications in South Dakota and Texas. With more than 10 years of experience in community journalism, he has won a number of state, national, and international awards for his writing and photography. He most recently worked as editor of Community Impact Newspaper covering a number of Dallas-Ft. Worth communities on a hyperlocal level. Contact Kyle G. at [email protected].
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