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A Black Woman Says She Had To Hide Her Race To Get A Fair Home Appraisal

Carlette Duffy's tidy, three-bedroom home is in a historic Black neighborhood in Indianapolis. It has been completely renovated and sits across the street from a park and lush greenspace. She bought it four years ago for $100,000.

"My house is my forever home," Duffy said. "I love my neighborhood. I love my home."

With a hot housing market and low interest rates, Duffy wanted to refinance her mortgage to help fix up her late grandmother's home right around the corner.

"It was more so about my family and carrying this legacy on in my family," Duffy said, "and hopefully rehab that house to then pass down to my daughter and my grandbaby."

The first appraisal came back at $125,000 and she was shocked. After an independent market analysis estimated her home at $187,000, she tried again.

"Then to get the second one and it's $15,000 lower just a few months later, I just could not fathom," Duffy said. "There was just a nagging voice in my head that was saying that there is something wrong, there's something wrong."

Duffy wanted to put her theory to the test.

When she applied for refinancing with a new lender she left her race and gender off the application. One of her friend's husbands, who is white, agreed to stand in during the third appraisal.

Before he did, she took out everything that might indicate her race and left her home. She got another shock when she got that appraisal back.

"I scrolled so fast and I was just like holding my breath scrolling to that number," Duffy said, "I don't even want to read it just yet. I just want to see the number."

The number, $259,000. More than double the original appraisal.

"I was so happy, but then it just sinks in," Duffy said. "It sinks in, that what was devaluing my home was me."

Carlette Duffy filed a complaint against two of the lenders with HUD. Neither would comment for this story. But the appraiser with the lowest estimate, Tim Boston, stands by his report.

"Anytime I put a report out, I prepare with the intention of having to defend that report before a group of my peers," Boston said, "It's all data driven. So it's inherent in the data and I wouldn't know how to change that."

A number of studies have found that Black-owned homes are undervalued when compared to those of white homeowners. This is especially true in historically Black neighborhoods. A 2018 report by the Brookings Institution finds that adds up to $156 billion in cumulative losses for Black homeowners.

Amy Nelson heads the The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana and said local and federal policies that perpetuated racial segregation in the early 20th century play into the continued disparity.

"It was the appraisal industry at the time that supported the very redlining maps," Nelson said. "That redlined Carlette's neighborhood and so many black neighborhoods in our city."

Nelson said while it's hard to determine how prevalent the problem is, examples of racial bias and discrimination in the appraisal process have been discussed for years.

"Just a growing number of blacks and African American saying something's wrong here," Nelson said.

There also may be a growing desire to address this issue. HUD recently decided in favor of a complainant in a similar appraisal discrimination case.

In a written statement the American Society of Appraisers says it supports a focus on why black homes are devalued. It adds that more education for appraisers and a more diverse workforce could be part of the solution.

Copyright 2021 WFYI Public Radio

Jill Sheridan