Why Don’t More Twin Cities Blacks Own Homes?

For a long time I have believed that the New York Times is America’s worst newspaper, with the Washington Post close behind. Sadly, news coverage in the Wall Street Journal, while not in that dismal league, has declined. If it weren’t for the editorial page, one wonders whether the Journal would be worth subscribing to. Its news coverage is liberal, and in these days, largely “woke.”

A case in point is yesterday’s story titled “Why Black Homeownership Lags Badly in Minneapolis,” co-authored by Rachel Bachman and Douglas Belkin. The subhead is, “Restrictive property covenants once helped keep people of color out of neighborhoods around America. The effects have compounded.”

The takeoff point for this story is that the “gap” between the white home ownership rate and the black home ownership rate in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area–the article itself is vague, referring mostly to Minneapolis, but this seems clear from the accompanying charts–is the widest in the nation:

In the Minneapolis metro area, 77% of white residents own homes, compared with 25% of Black residents—a 52-percentage-point difference, larger than in any other major U.S. city….

Actually, the Twin Cities are home to a number of such “gaps,” most notably, in educational achievement. The reasons for this are historic, but the most obvious causal factor is that 15 or 20 years ago (it could still be true, but I haven’t seen the numbers lately) the U.S. zip code that had the highest rate of illegitimate births in the country was North Minneapolis. But don’t hold your breath waiting for liberals to talk about that.

A trove of new research suggests that one factor is a tool of discrimination from 100 years ago: racially restrictive covenants that were attached to thousands of Minneapolis homes in the early 20th century, prohibiting sales to many minorities.

This is a profoundly silly theory. First of all, race-restricted covenants have been unenforceable, as the article acknowledges, since 1948, and have been banned in Minnesota since 1962. The idea that somehow, 60 to 75 years later, those long-gone covenants are still preventing blacks from buying homes, is ridiculous on its face.

Further, the number of blacks who were affected by such covenants was minuscule. As the article notes, “In the early 20th century, Black residents made up just 1% of the population.” Virtually all of the Twin Cities’ black population has moved to the area after restrictive covenants were abolished.

The Journal authors purport to find a lingering impact from deeds that date back the better part of a century, for reasons that can only be characterized as mystical:

It’s clear, however, that covenants were the foundation of a disparity that was then compounded by other factors in the ensuing decades.

Really? Nothing in the article makes such a claim “clear.” The authors cite this striking data point:

In Minneapolis, a 1% increase in covenanted houses in a census block was linked to a 19% reduction in Black homeownership as of 2010, according to a draft of a study led by Aradhya Sood, a postdoctoral scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. It isn’t clear why the effect of covenants is so enduring, she said. “What did surprise me,” she said, “was just the level of the effect.”

I think I can explain it. First, though, I can’t tell whether this alleged data point refers to the city of Minneapolis, or to the Twin Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area, which extends into Wisconsin. Taking the authors at their word, I assume it is Minneapolis. This, then, is what is going on: the areas of Minneapolis that existed in the early 20th century and where there were at least a handful of restrictive covenants may or may not have amounted to much at the time, but they are now rather exclusive. Blacks are entirely welcome in South and Southwest Minneapolis, they just have to be able to afford a house that may cost $1 million. The correlation found by the authors is not with restrictive covenants of 100 years ago, but rather with today’s real estate market.

Real estate development in the Twin Cities metro area has occurred mostly since 1948 or, if we choose that date, 1962. The suburb in which I live did not exist in 1962. There have never been any restrictive covenants here, and blacks and others are welcome to buy homes. They just have to make their mortgage payments. That is true for the vast majority of the Twin Cities metro area.

The Journal article includes charts that negate the authors’ thesis. Black home ownership in the metro area was significantly higher in 2000 than today. How can the decline over the last 21 years possibly be the result of covenants from 100 years ago, that covered an infinitesimal portion of the metro area?

Further, the article’s charts show that the rates of home ownership by Asians and by Hispanics born outside the United States have skyrocketed in the last few years. Those groups were also banned by 100-year-old restrictive covenants. While there were probably even fewer of them than the 1% who were black at that time, what is the difference? I could answer that question, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the politically-correct Wall Street Journal to explain.

The best thing about this pathetic Journal article is the comments, of which there are more than 700. I recommend that you check them out. The Journal’s news reporters may have gone downhill, but the paper’s readers haven’t. Not yet, anyway.

For example:

What is the correlation between education and home ownership, or employment by race and home ownership, how about correlation between two income families and home ownership, or other traditional factors and home ownership? This “study” appears to seek data to support a thesis – but can’t. Also, these covenants were designed to exclude Jews and other groups from home ownership in some areas. How are they doing currently? Is the impact as durable for these groups and why or why not?

A discreet veil must be drawn over that last question. More:

“It’s clear, however, that covenants were the foundation of a disparity that was then compounded by other factors in the ensuing decades.”

Clear? There is not even a definition of what “foundation of a disparity” is supposed to mean, and the article coyly admits that “the covenant data doesn’t fully explain why the gap is so persistent.” In fact, “the covenant data” explain nothing, at least as presented here.

Racially restrictive covenants were at one time common throughout the United States. This article includes no reason – not even conjectural – why Minneapolis should have had an experience different from any other afflicted city or any claim that Minneapolis is exemplary of a broader phenomenon.

In other words, this article and the study on which it is based are not serious efforts.

This commenter gets more personal, quoting the Journal itself:

“Rachel Bachman is a senior sports reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s New York office. She covers the Olympics, college sports, investigations and other sports-related topics. Previously at the Journal, Ms. Bachman wrote about fitness and exercise. She has worked for the Oregonian in Portland, covering college football and basketball, the NBA and issues and trends in sports. She grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Michigan.”

The Bachmans are one of Minnesota’s wealthy families. I don’t know whether the sportswriter Rachel Bachman, now foraying into politics rather than sports, is from that family or not. But it may be that she grew up in one of those very few homes to which century-old restrictive covenants actually applied, at least until 60 years ago. Growing up wealthy tends to skew one’s perspective, creating the impression that inherited wealth is a big deal, when in fact hardly any of us inherit much from our parents or grandparents. This is why growing up wealthy tends to make one a liberal. If my speculation is misguided, Ms. Bachman can write to us at [email protected] and I will be happy to publish her contribution.

Be that as it may, this article was almost unbelievably stupid, and we can only join the many WSJ commenters who asked: with reporting this bad, is the Journal still worth subscribing to?