To fulfill the promise of our founders, and of Juneteenth, it’s time to prioritize affordability and access for Black Americans, writes team leader Carl Medford. Here he outlines the history of the holiday and the meaning it holds.

While Juneteenth celebrates the abolishment of slavery, it serves to highlight the fact that minorities, in so many ways, are still not equal.

This past Monday we celebrated Juneteenth, the national holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the oldest celebrated commemoration proclaiming freedom for enslaved African Americans in the United States, following the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865.

Written into law as a nationally recognized Federal Holiday by President Biden who, on June 17, 2021, signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, its purpose is to recognize the abolishment of slavery and fulfill the words enshrined in the Constitution, which state:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Although we celebrate freedom for all in the United States, we still have a long way to go in attaining the full measure of equality for all citizens of this great country. Dr. King’s impassioned “I Have a Dream” speech drew a line in the sand decrying the racial inequality that has plagued our nation throughout its history.

While progress has been made since Dr. King’s death, we still face a long uphill journey, especially in regard to housing. A post by the Urban Institute stated,

“There can be no question that access to housing remains unequal. Despite long-standing laws guarding against discrimination, members of disadvantaged groups have a harder time finding a high-quality place to live in a high-opportunity neighborhood. It’s far less obvious, however, whether — or how much — these disparities result from discrimination because disadvantaged groups often differ systematically in employment, income, assets and debts.”

Like any problem with a significant history, there is no “magic pill” solution. At the heart of the problem have been issues such as “redlining,” a discriminatory practice in which services (financial and otherwise) are withheld from potential customers who reside in neighborhoods classified as “hazardous” to investment. These residents largely belong to racial and ethnic minorities.

Accompanying this, a second issue called “steering” has also been commonplace. In this practice, real estate brokers guide prospective homebuyers toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race.)

Galvanized by the untimely assassination of King, on April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which sought, amongst other things, to end discriminatory practices in housing.  HUD’s website states,

“The enactment of the federal Fair Housing Act … came only after a long and difficult journey. From 1966-1967, Congress regularly considered the fair housing bill, but failed to garner a strong enough majority for its passage. However, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the bill’s speedy Congressional approval … President Johnson viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King’s funeral in Atlanta.”

It is no secret that the recent housing market gains have disproportionately disadvantaged minorities. Calvin Schermerhorn, wrote in the Washington Post on June 19, 2019:

“Juneteenth — Emancipation Day 1865 — was supposed to start a new era of black wealth creation. After 12 generations of being subject to slavery’s institutionalized theft, 4 million African Americans were now free to earn incomes and degrees, hold property, weather hard times and pass down wealth to the next generation. They would surely scramble up the economic ladder, if not in one generation then in a few.

“Eight generations later, the racial wealth gap is both yawning and growing. The typical black family has just 1/10th the wealth of the typical white one. In 1863, black Americans owned one-half of 1 percent of the national wealth. Today it’s just over 1.5 percent for roughly the same percentage of the overall population. The cause of that stagnation has largely been invisible, hidden by the assumption of progress after the end of slavery and the achievements of civil rights. But for every gain black Americans made, people in power created new bundles of discrimination, largely hidden from sight, that thwarted, again and again, the economic promise of emancipation.”

Although the focus has been on African Americans, the reality of financial inequality affects a broad swath of minorities who make up the backbone of this country. As market values have grown over the past few years, minorities, often with lower incomes or credit scores, have been increasingly unable to compete with multiple offers submitted by those with better financial foundations. This has led to disproportionate homeownership that does not mirror the ethnic diversity in the U.S.

Ironically, as we move deeper into the current market shift, most frequently evidenced by fewer multiple offers and declining prices, I believe opportunities for minorities will increase. Additionally, however, I believe we have a mandate as a nation to look for effective solutions to bridge the homeownership gap, and because homeownership is so much a part of wealth creation and wellbeing, completely fulfill all the promise held out in the Constitution of these United States of “the pursuit of happiness.”

Carl Medford is CEO of The Medford Team.

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