A Black Baltimore couple looking to refinance their home at a lower interest rate were told that their house was worth $472,000. But that couldn't be right, Dr. Nathan Connolly and his wife, Dr. Shani Mott, told The New York Times. They’d purchased the house in 2017 for $450,000, and spent $5,000 for a new tankless water heater and $35,000 for other upgrades.
So the family ordered another appraisal months later, removing personal photos and having a white colleague stand in for them as the homeowner. Boom! Their house was suddenly valued at $750,000, they told the Times.
Drs. Mott and Connolly, a history professor at John Hopkins University with an expertise in redlining, filed a lawsuit against the company they used, the California-based loanDepot.
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“We were clearly aware of appraisal discrimination,” Dr. Connolly, 44, told ABC News. “But to be told in so many words that our presence and the life we’ve built in our home brings the property value down? It’s an absolute gut punch.”
Unfortunately, as Dr. Connolly notes, this isn’t a unique scenario.
Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin, a Black couple in the San Francisco Bay area, sued their appraisal company when it valued their significantly renovated home at $995,000 instead of the $1.48 million value received from another appraiser.
RELATED STORY: To prove lowball appraisal, Black couple ‘white-washes’ home—value rises by nearly $500K
The Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the Austins' case in February, noting that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 "broadly prohibits discrimination in housing."
“Combatting housing discrimination, including bias in appraisals, is a high priority across the federal government,” the DOJ wrote in the statement. “Last year, the President ordered agencies to take ‘a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.’”
The Austin case is set for mediation, but if both sides can't resolve the matter, they have a court hearing scheduled in September, The New York Times reported.
Paul Austin told the newspaper it's huge that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris intervened. “But I do believe it is going to take quite a few more lawsuits in order for appraisers to stop devaluing Black and brown properties,” Austin said. “It’s a historical aspect of how people value Black and brown lives.”