Andre Perry is a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and a scholar-in-residence at American University. He writes for The Hechinger Report, and has been published by The Nation, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Last year, Andre put out a new book based on his work: Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, which explores urban development in cities across the country, and how it has so often failed Black communities.
This story is also a personal one. Andre talks about growing up in the Pittsburgh region, in the township of Wilkinsburg. He has described how he has watched over the years as this community remains stagnated, and without meaningful investment, while neighboring areas experience remarkable economic revivals.
Andre began his career focused on education, but his work has expanded to examine the myriad ways government policies have ‘created housing, education, and wealth disparities’ that continue to disadvantageously impact minority communities in urban metro areas. Andre has written on subjects as diverse as infrastructure, how our children are driving climate action, student debt cancellation, access to fertility treatments, and supporting Black businesses. He also served as the Founding Dean at the College of Urban Education, at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, an institution he helped to plan and launch.
Insights and Inspirations
- Institutionalized racism creates an ‘unconscious bias,’ where we are willing to blame the people who have been marginalized rather than the policies that made it possible. And so, we recycle discrimination over and over and over. If we don’t see the problem, we have no incentive to change it.
- Andre found that in neighborhoods where the share of Black population was 50 percent or higher, homes were underpriced by 23 percent, or $48,000 per home … $156 billion in lost equity.
- These communities should have access to the same information, data, research, and ideas as corporations, cities and state governments … so they can come to the table empowered.
- We need to create a culture of inclusion where all people are valued, and to do this we need innovations. We need new mortgage products. We need new appraising systems. We need new tax assessment systems.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:10] Hi there, thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. Real estate can help to solve climate change, can house people affordably, can create beautiful streetscapes, unify neighborhoods and enliven cities. So I’m on a journey to find the most creative thinkers and doers out there. I’m not the only one who wants to rethink real estate. You can learn more about me at EvePicker.com or you can find me at SmallChange.co, a real estate crowdfunding platform with impact real estate investment opportunities open for investment right now. And if you want to support this podcast, please join me at Patreon.com/rethinkrealestate, where there are special opportunities for my friends and followers. Today, I’m talking with Andre Perry, a senior fellow at Brookings in Washington, D.C. Andre is also a scholar in residence at American University, a columnist for The Hechinger Report, and he writes for the Nation. But what really drives Andre is the seemingless impossible divide between blacks and whites in this country. He is focused in his recent work on the multiple issues impacting minority communities in urban metro areas. And he has authored a book, published in 2020, called Know Your Price, Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. In his work at gathering data for the book in black majority cities across the country, Andre found that homes in black neighborhoods where the share of population was 50 percent or higher were valued at about half as much as white neighborhoods. Andre further refined the data by taking into account education, crime, walkability and other key neighborhood factors. And still, he found that homes in black majority neighborhoods were underpriced by 23 percent, or about 48,000 dollars per home. That’s 156 billion in lost equity. And Andre knows we have to fix that. If you’d like to join me in my quest to rethink real estate, there are two simple things you can do. Share this podcast or go to Patreon.com/rethinkrealestate to learn about special opportunities for my friends and followers and subscribe if you can.
Eve: [00:03:18] Hello, Andre, and I’m just really delighted to have this opportunity to talk to you.
Andre Perry: [00:03:22] Well, thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Eve: [00:03:26] Great. There’s lots to talk about. You’ve thought and written about multiple issues impacting minority communities and urban metro areas and most recently in your book, Know Your Price, Value in Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. So, first of all, I wanted to ask you, because I’ve also read other things that you’ve written, and I’d like to know what you mean by the term unconscious bias.
Andre: [00:03:54] Well, unconscious bias is when you act without thinking. It’s essentially the responding to a narrative that we generally know and accept. It’s like when people say the American dream, we all have an idea about what that means, and we respond to it. But when it comes to Black Americans, we also have an idea in our head that if anything goes wrong, we blame Black people. And so without thinking, without batting an eye, if there are problems in Black neighborhoods, we say, oh, it must be the character of the residents. It must be crime. It must be something else. We never look at policy implications or we don’t look at policy makers behavior. So for me, when I talk about unconscious bias, I generally refer to how we assume that Black people are the problem when considering the issues in Black neighborhoods and cities.
Eve: [00:05:09] Right. So what’s been the overall impact of this unconscious bias and what’s the impact today? I mean,
Andre: [00:05:17] You know, we talk a lot about unconscious bias, but at its heart is really just plain discrimination.
Eve: [00:05:24] Emotion, yeah.
Andre: [00:05:24] Like that. You know, it’s when you talk about, for instance, redlining. It was the practice of the federally backed Homeowners Loan Corporation in the 30s and throughout to the 70s, the practice of saying that Black neighborhoods were too hazardous or or they weren’t worthy of low interest loans to help develop those those areas. But it was predicated on this, the effort to isolate Black people in communities.
Eve: [00:06:00] Wasn’t that conscious bias rather than unconscious bias?
Andre: [00:06:03] Yeah, I mean, but it was also just fueled by this belief that Black people and white people should not live together. And there was a conscious effort to bring that belief into policy. And so, you know, I you know, I talk a little bit about conscious bias in my work, but the source of a lot of our implicit or tacit assumptions are racist policy. Conscious, conscious, racist policy. And so we can’t let policy off the hook for our behaviors. I tend to blame policy, not people. I just I find it more useful to get at the root for me. And that’s policy. And that, for me, represents that conscious effort to suppress Black people based on a hierarchy of human values.
Eve: [00:07:08] Right. Yeah, that’s, I think, very conscious and really disturbing. But, you know, I have to wonder about all the unconscious bias out there that just perpetuates things a little longer, makes it a little harder to get where we need to go.
Andre: [00:07:23] You know, a lot of my work, I look at home values. What anchors the book Know Your Price is a housing study we did a few years back where we looked at the average price of homes in areas where the share of the Black population is 50 percent or higher and compared them to areas where the share of the Black population is less than a percent. And we controlled for education, crime, walkability, all those fancy Zillow metrics. And what we found is that homes in Black neighborhoods are underpriced by 23 percent, about 48,000 per home. Cumulatively, that’s 156 billion in lost equity. That’s the money people use to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. It’s the money municipalities use to fund everything from education to infrastructure to policing. But, you know, there’s a way to interpret that 23 percent difference. Again, we controlled for education, we controlled for crime. And certainly, crime and education mattered. They lower price, but that there’s still a gap. And it’s almost as if people, when they see Black neighborhoods, they see twice as much crime than there actually is. They see worse education than there actually is. So there is a perceptual issue here. That when evaluating or assessing taxes, when appraising homes or any kind of subjective task is at hand, people lean on these tropes of Black neighborhoods. And and so there is something psychological in nature that’s reducing the value in Black neighborhoods in ways that it shouldn’t. So there is something there when you’re talking about unconscious bias.
Eve: [00:09:36] So as you mentioned, this bias spills over into investment and who has wealth and who does not. And, you know, as a real estate developer, I’ve certainly seen how it works with appraisals because, you know, banks will lend based on appraisals and appraisals in existing neighborhoods have a certain value. And if they’re already devalued, what’s going to disrupt that and raise the value? You know, it’s just a huge dilemma.
Andre: [00:10:06] Yeah. You know, the price comparison model is an example of structural racism. I mean, a good example of structural racism. So, as you mentioned, when an appraiser has to find a comparable home and they stay in the neighborhood, that’s already been discriminated against, you’re essentially just recycling discrimination over and over and over.
Eve: [00:10:27] Exactly. So how do you disrupt that?
Andre: [00:10:30] Oh, so one, you can you don’t necessarily have to stay in the neighborhood for finding comparables. I mean, what’s interesting is like for our data, we looked at the entire metro area and compared homes with similar social circumstances. So you can find, using big data, you can find homes in areas that have similar educational levels, similar crime levels, all those different things. And you don’t necessarily have to compare it to another home in the same neighborhood.
Eve: [00:11:07] Yeah, but then you’re dealing with an industry that’s used to doing that. So really, the disruption has to come with the entire banking and appraisal industry. How do you make them look elsewhere? Like what prompts? You know, I was one of the first loft builders in Pittsburgh and I went through this myself because there were no comparables. And so I talked to appraisers about like, well, you know, look at that project. It’s not in the same neighborhood, but it’s offering a similar product. And they did. You know, they had to because it was the beginning of something new and there wasn’t anything else to look at. But when you have, you know, five other houses that have sold in a neighborhood, like Wilkinsburg, where I know you grew up or Garfield and that’s the easiest go-to, how do you disrupt that behavior?
Andre: [00:11:57] Yeah, but I think you said a word that is really relevant to the conversation. You make them.
Eve: [00:12:05] Ahhhh.
Andre: [00:12:06] You know, one thing I learned about this protest movement over the last few years, but really culminating in the summer of 2020 is that people do have power. This is a power issue. And the same way we created a culture of exclusion, we can create a culture of inclusion where people are valued, all people are valued. And we need innovations, no question. We need new mortgage products. We need new appraising systems. We need new tax assessment systems, and we should open ourselves up to that. But clearly, people in various industries aren’t going to do that themselves. They’re going to have to be backed into it. So I encourage communities to mobilize, organize and fight back. The typical thing that has incited structural change in the United States, it’s litigation.
Eve: [00:13:14] Right, right.
Andre: [00:13:14] So that is a tool. But I also just think that we are going to have to pressure banks and appraisal, the various industries in housing to take new approaches. Because those approaches are the tools that reify discrimination in this country, and it goes beyond appraisals and lending. You’re talking about zoning structures as well.
Eve: [00:13:47] Yes. Yes.
Andre: [00:13:47] You know, you’re talking about building.
Eve: [00:13:50] My backyard. Yeah.
Andre: [00:13:52] Yeah, exactly. And so there’s all these structures that maintain exclusion and bias. And we need to demand change in all of those structures. So and that’s where, you know, for my book, Know Your Price, there’s a theme, there’s you know, I want people to demand their proper value. And it’s not going to come because someone else says this is what it should be worth or, it’s going to come by people from places like Wilkinsburg, Homewood, Garfield, demanding their proper value.
Eve: [00:14:37] Right.
Andre: [00:14:37] And so for me, it’s, you said the word make. Yeah, that’s what it’s going to take.
Eve: [00:14:43] Yeah, I think you’re probably right. So the interesting thing is also, you know, there are developers who, developer it isn’t always a bad word, who really want to work in these neighborhoods. And they can’t because of this entire sort of pricing structure becomes impossible. It doesn’t matter if you build a house in Wilkinsburg or Garfield or downtown, the construction costs are going to be the same. Right?
Andre: [00:15:09] Yeah.
Eve: [00:15:09] But the market’s really different. So that is a huge problem. But also, I’ve always been really sort of irritated and puzzled by the affordable housing market, which almost demands a product that looks the same. So, I think when you talk about value, you know, good design, different design, innovative products can bring a different value as well. And I don’t think people think about that very much. You can drive down a street in Pittsburgh and, you know when you’re on a street which has affordable housing because it all looks the same.
Andre: [00:15:44] Yeah.
Eve: [00:15:46] It’s bad branding, right?
Andre: [00:15:47] Exactly. And I’m not a real estate person in the sense I’m not a practitioner. I’m a researcher. But I’ve been saying, hey, there needs to be innovation in the actual end products that we put up. You know, we’ve got to show how diverse products can look and serve diverse communities. We’ve got to have innovation in lending and in ownership. Like we need new cooperative models. We need new everything from credit scoring systems to zoning ordinances. But I will say this, that at some point you need more capital directed in the right way.
Eve: [00:16:37] Yes.
Andre: [00:16:38] And so for me, it’s also about understanding the role the federal government has to play in creating inclusive communities. Because remember, it was the federal government largely that created the problem we’re in today. They, instead of distributing resources equitably in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, they distributed resources to help communities, to build up communities and wealth, really among white residents and not Black. So, the same approach as we used in the 30s, 40s, 50s to help people build up communities, we can use today. But when it comes to Black people, we don’t want to give Black residents low interest loans and grants and down payment assistance. And and we don’t want to reward developers for actually creating inclusive homes and facilities. We then hide behind the sort of, you can’t create any kind of race based program that’s reverse discrimination. But the reality is, if you really create some type of equitable strategy, you almost have to target your investments towards people who have been disenfranchised or injured by past policy.
Eve: [00:18:09] Right.
Andre: [00:18:10] And it happens to be Black people and we should not shy away from that. And then it happens to be in places that you have significant Black populations, not completely all Black people in Wilkinsburg or Homewood or Garfield, but those are the places we need to find a way to direct capital to and in ways that just makes sense.
Eve: [00:18:33] Yes, yes.
Andre: [00:18:34] And there’s this reticence to drive capital based on need. And until we solve for that, it’s going to be hard to really do what we need to do.
Eve: [00:18:48] So you’ve also talked about the devaluation of Black owned homes, and I want to hear a little bit more about that. How how did you calculate that?
Andre: [00:18:57] At the core, you know, I’m from Wilkinsburg and I come back home all the time,
Eve: [00:19:02] We should explain to people who are listening to this, because we have listeners all over the country, maybe even the world. So, Wilkinsburg is actually a beautiful neighborhood town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh that has amazing architectural building stock and has just sort of stagnated and leaned in really poor condition for a very long time, presumably because it is predominantly a Black demographic. Is that a good explanation?
Andre: [00:19:34] Yeah. And it’s you know, growing up in Wilkinsburg, I really didn’t know the difference between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh, because Wilkinsburg is a Black majority municipality borough surrounded by Pittsburgh on three sides.
Eve: [00:19:49] Oh, I didn’t know that actually. Yeah.
Andre: [00:19:51] Yeah. And the people generally were the same. I mean, in the parts of Pittsburgh that it was adjacent to was Black. Wilkinsburg was majority Black. It had thriving commercial corridor, and it had all the quote unquote assets that you would look for when considering to develop a place. It’s close to downtown, close to the university. It has its own highway. It had parks. It has everything.
Eve: [00:20:22] There’s even a busway stop there.
Andre: [00:20:24] Busway. I mean, there’s…
Eve: [00:20:26] Like ten minutes to downtown. It’s amazing.
Andre: [00:20:28] I mean, it has literally everything you would want. But when U.S. Steel left town or downsized considerably, white residents moved, leaving a majority Black population and investment just stopped. And in any situation, I mean other situations, if you said if that area had majority white people in it, there would be no question there will be development there, because, as you mentioned, housing stock was excellent. You had a thriving commercial corridor.
Eve: [00:21:07] Yeah, the main street’s lovely.
Andre: [00:21:09] Exactly. You had everything there. And so, when I go back home, it is like stupefying to look at why isn’t investment coming? And right next door in Pittsburgh, which similar situation in terms of access to transportation, great housing, universities nearby, commercial corridor. But there was a decision to bring Google into town. And Google could have landed in Wilkinsburg. They chose Pittsburgh. And I talk a lot about bias in bias out. And so, in the planning for Google to come to Pittsburgh. To site itself in a former Nabisco factory where Black people used to live around. All the planning was essentially with white people. And if you look at that part of Pittsburgh now, it’s thriving, it’s booming. It has restaurants, shops,
Eve: [00:22:18] It’s actually gentrified, which is a little shocking.
Andre: [00:22:21] But you don’t see Black people.
Eve: [00:22:23] No, I know that. You know, I did a couple of developments in East Liberty before Google came along. And the last thing in the world I wanted to see was that neighborhood gentrify.
Andre: [00:22:36] Yeah.
Eve: [00:22:37] And I was absolutely shocked to see it happen over the period of probably 18 months. It went from Black people on the street to what looked like people visiting from the suburbs. I don’t know how else to say it, but it was it was actually shocking to watch. It was like for one moment in time, it was a great mixed, diverse neighborhood and then it was over. How can you, like, stop it right there, you know, when it’s at the great, mixed, diverse neighborhood point?
Andre: [00:23:06] But that’s why we need more housing policy connected to our economic development policy.
Eve: [00:23:15] Yep.
Andre: [00:23:16] And oftentimes they’re running on parallel tracks, never to touch. And it, my belief that some of that is intentional. That there are many people who don’t want to see Black people around a new development. And so, when you plan with all or mostly all white people with the muckety mucks of places like Pittsburgh and not include others in your development, you get what you get. And so I always say that. The developments really reflect who’s involved. Now, and it’s difficult because when you’re talking about planners and architects and economic development folks, largely white crowds and so…
Eve: [00:24:08] Also, largely white male crowd.
Andre: [00:24:11] Yes, that’s right.
Eve: [00:24:12] I want to point that out because I’ve been the only female in the room for a long time.
Andre: [00:24:16] Exactly. Very. A lot of testosterone in the room.
Eve: [00:24:21] Yes.
Andre: [00:24:22] Right. Lots of it. And so, and then people look up when the project started to go, why does it look pale and male? Because the planners were pale and male, you know? So you have to be very intentional about making sure people are included in any kind of development. And so, whether you are in Pittsburgh or Philly or Birmingham or Detroit or Baltimore, you just have to be very deliberate about including people. And we have to make every effort to concretize inclusion into policy. You know, I wrote something not that long ago that talked about, on the federal government side, that we need equity scoring system. This, just the way we score legislation against its potential impacts on the budget. We should score policies and practices on its potential impact on Black and brown communities. And so, when you’re developing a project, you’ve got to demonstrate how is this going to boost employment? How it’s going to boost ownership? How are Black people going to share in the prosperity? If you don’t see a clear path, then we should not greenlight these projects.
Eve: [00:25:42] Yeah.
Andre: [00:25:43] Not only must we build a culture that supports inclusion. That culture must build policy to protect for inclusion.
Eve: [00:25:56] Right. So, in your book, you also talk about wanting to give Black communities and home-owners information to stand on to empower them. But how do you do that? I’ve been involved in community meetings in neighborhoods like Garfield and it’s excruciatingly difficult. Do you want to explain what you’re doing? You are faced with a crowd of people, some of whom are just trying to get by. And as a small developer, it’s just it’s you want to do the right thing. It’s just really hard to know how to do it.
Andre: [00:26:32] Yeah, but this is why we need to really work with community members. It’s a lot easier when you’re of the community. When people recognize you as a member of a particular community. So when I come back to Wilkinsburg, although I’ve been fairly distant for most of my professional career, when I go back, people go, oh, Andre, he’s down with us. He believes in us.
Eve: [00:26:56] They trust you.
Andre: [00:26:57] They trust me.
Eve: [00:26:58] Right.
Andre: [00:26:59] And so when I talk with developers, I see, you know, a lot of this work and it’s hard work. But you got to think of yourself as becoming a member of a community first, because when you’re a member of a community, it’s so much easier to communicate. It’s so much easier to share the benefits and the trade-offs. And it’s so much easier to be honest. And so one of the reasons why I wrote Know Your Price, it’s a policy book, but it’s there’s a lot of stories in there, personal narrative, biographies. Because one of the goals of the book was to introduce this idea of devaluation, not making it a policy wonky type of thing, but really explain it through the lived experience. And when you run through the lived experience, keep, it resonates with community members. So that was my goal of the book. But it’s something that everyone should take on. They should see themselves as becoming a member of a community because communication becomes so much easier.
Eve: [00:28:20] Interesting. So, I also want to shift to your partnership with Ashoka. The Brookings Ashoka Partnership, and explain what you’re trying to accomplish there. And also, what Ashoka, I know a little bit about Ashoka, but not a lot. So it would be great to hear something about this.
Andre: [00:28:38] Ashoka is a social entrepreneurship organization that really tries to incubate or incentivize systems changing ideas. So, if you have an idea that will change some system, they fund or incentivize through these through fellowships or competitions to find interesting and innovative approaches to solving problems. So, when I presented this issue of housing devaluation, someone from the Ashoka organization reached out and said, hey, this is the kind of problem that requires a systems changing idea. So, after a year worth of planning and discussion, we landed on a competition, a challenge, competition of sorts. Collaborative competition, I should say. That we’re looking for innovations that will find those systems changing ideas that will solve for housing devaluation. So, if you are out there and we’re going to have a million dollars’ worth of prize money that we’re going to use as incentive. So we’ll be giving away different prizes totaling a million dollars to people who may have new zoning ordinances they want to put forth. New credit scoring systems. New cooperative ownership models. If you have a solution, we want to hear about it. All you have to do is Google Ashoka Brookings Collaborative Challenge and you’ll get all the information. But it was my way of really saying, hey, how can we incentivize people who are proximate to the problem to solve for this issue? And so we launched it a few months ago, but people can start enrolling in the competition in the summer. Right now, we’re just simply mapping ideas, looking for different approaches and so we can then categorize them. But people will be able to join in this collaborative challenge starting this summer.
Eve: [00:31:09] That sounds really fabulous.
Andre: [00:31:11] Yeah, it’s fab because, you know, when you work in a think tank, I’m a senior fellow at Brookings. We’re good with identifying problems, sometimes not as good as identifying solutions. So, this is really my effort to say, hey, here are some solutions that will be community driven. Not coming from up high, from somebody in D.C. These are solutions driven by community members. And so that’s the whole point.
Eve: [00:31:46] So if you could imagine the country 10 years from now, how would you like to see it changed?
Andre: [00:31:53] I want to see a country in which there’s a culture that supports reparative strategies. You know that I want to see these kind of policy changes come from a change in culture. For so long we’ve created a culture of exclusion and that led to everything from redlining to exclusionary zoning to employment discrimination. All these things are supported by an exclusive culture. I want to see 10 years from now a culture that supports reparations, inclusionary zoning, other policies that repair the damage that was caused by discrimination. And that’s going to take people who are talking about repair, talking about inclusion, talking about the value of diversity, and if we do this enough, we can shift the culture. And so that’s what I want to see.
Eve: [00:33:07] I’ve thought about this a lot. And I think for me, it’s I’d love to see a culture of trust. And that would probably only be built after everything you’ve said. But the mistrust is really, I think, stopping us moving forward really big time. And so, I’d love to live in this country and not feel like I’m mistrusted because I’m white or not feel like I might mistrust someone because they’re Black. That would be a really lovely thing. Don’t you think?
Andre: [00:33:40] Oh yeah. I mean, you know, that’s certainly core.
Eve: [00:33:44] Yes.
Andre: [00:33:44] We really don’t trust each other.
Eve: [00:33:47] No, I think that’s …
Andre: [00:33:47] As you know, developing trust is a process.
Eve: [00:33:51] It certainly is.
Andre: [00:33:52] I think if we are willing to put ourselves in that process, then we can gain trust. It is achievable to be a trusting, loving reparative culture.
Eve: [00:34:07] So what’s next for you? Final question.
Andre: [00:34:10] Oh, man, I’m I have this Ashoka Brookings Collaborative Challenge. I have reports coming up. But, you know, I’m going to continue to fight for justice using research as my main tool and engage in places with places like Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg. And just go deeper with my analysis and look for solutions. So, more of the same. Yeah. So, you know, obviously we keep updating our research. We keep finding new insights, but I’m going to keep pressing on fighting for justice.
Eve: [00:35:06] Well, I can’t wait to see what else you do. And I’m certainly going to keep an eye on that Ashoka challenge. It sounds really interesting. Thank you so much for spending time with me today.
Andre: [00:35:16] Hey, thanks for having me.
Eve: [00:35:35] That was Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Andre grew up in Wilkinsburg on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Once a diverse and thriving neighborhood and now a poor majority Black neighborhood. On his trips home, he can’t help but notice that East Liberty, an adjacent neighborhood and home to Google, is thriving. Meanwhile, Wilkinsburg seems stuck in time. There has been no investment there in decades, and this speaks to the data he has found. Black neighborhoods are valued at 23 percent less than white ones. In Andre’s perfect world, which he is working towards, they’ll be valued the same. You can find out more about this episode on the show notes page at EvePicker.com, or you can find other episodes you might have missed. Or you can show your support at Patreon.com/rethinkrealestate, where you can learn about special opportunities for my friends and followers. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Images courtesy of Andre Perry/Brookings and Jonathan Greene. ‘Flyboy’ mural by Hebru Brantley, 2017.