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Mainers in several minority groups are significantly less likely to own a home than their white counterparts and lag rates in most other states, census data shows.
The biggest disparity is for Black Mainers, who only have a homeownership rate of 25 percent among the around 5,300 households in Maine that have a Black head of household compared with 74 percent of white Mainers.
There are disparities for Black Americans nationwide, but Maine’s rate lies far below the national rate of 42 percent at a rate that is seventh-lowest in the country. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 8 percent and Mississippi the highest at 54 percent.
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There are so few Black homeowners in Maine that only 59 of the nearly 500 municipalities have black homeowners in them, according to 2020 American Community Survey data.
Some of the statistics are stark: While there are 312 family units in South Portland with a Black head of household, none are homeowners. The same is true in Biddeford, with 195 such units. It is possible there are Black homeowners in these communities that the American Community Survey did not uncover.
Both Portland and Kittery were the only communities in Maine with more than 200 Black homeowners. Portland has 221 while Kittery has 217, according to the American Community Survey.
One of those is Michael Kebede, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the chair of Portland’s Charter Commission, who was speaking on a personal level. After renting for years, Kebede, who is Ethiopian-American, bought a one-bedroom condo in Portland’s West End for $258,500 in November 2019.
It was just four months before the COVID-19 pandemic would change Maine’s housing market forever, and Kebede now says he was “extremely lucky” to have done so at that time.
He said housing discrimination plays a role in the low rates. In 2016, he was touring a Congress Street apartment complex but didn’t like either of the units he was shown.
Asking if there were others available, the staff member told him no. But then another employee who was higher in leadership came in. Acknowledging a white friend of Kebede who was accompanying him, the staff member told their deputy to show him two other, nicer and more expensive apartments.
Kebede ended up taking a unit from the latter tour but was left feeling uneasy from the interaction. He felt it had happened because he was Black.
“It illustrates how intractable this problem of housing discrimination is where it’s difficult to prove,” Kebede.
He noted that many Black Mainers also lack the generational wealth to buy a home available to many of their white counterparts, which is true for descendants of enslaved people brought to the U.S. and those who came later from Africa, Caribbean nations and other parts of the American continent. That latter group was largely not permitted to emigrate to the U.S. until legislation in the 1960s, he said.
The median household income for Black Mainers is 32 percent lower than that of white Mainers. Their homeownership rate is 66 percent lower.
While Maine’s Black homeownership rate is nationally low, its rate for other groups is not much higher.
In Maine’s Asian community, 52 percent own their homes among the 4,520 Asian-led households, 29 percent below the rate for white Mainers. It’s also below the national rate for Asian-Americans, which is 60 percent.
Native American Mainers also have a rate that is lower than white Mainers and below the national average for that group: 51 percent own their own home among the 3,500 Native American households in Maine compared with 55 percent nationally.
Native American and Asian Mainers also both have lower median household incomes than whites.
While Hispanics in Maine, who include members of previously stated groups, have a homeownership rate above the national average, they also have a higher median household income than those in other states.
About 56 percent of the 6,600 Hispanic households in Maine own their own home compared with 49 percent nationally. Maine’s rate remains below the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
There are many communities where all of the Latino households in town were recorded as being owner-occupied. The largest is near the New Hampshire border in Eliot, where none of the 163 Hispanic-led households rent.
In the state with the largest percentage of white residents in the country, Kebede said the relatively small concentrations of people of color in Maine also makes it more difficult to gain the influence necessary to make home-owning easier for those communities.
Many of the states with the lowest rates of homeownership among their Black residents also have the fewest rates of such communities, while the state with the highest rate among Black residents, Mississippi, also has the highest percentage of Black people.
Kebede said he was optimistic that homeownership rates among Black Mainers could increase over time, based on expected increases in generational wealth as well as the work of organizations. Still, rising housing costs gave him pause. The priority has to be to increase housing stock in Maine so that all communities have a chance to reap the benefits, he said.
“Through a greater level of understanding from ordinary people about why the world is the way it is, that change can come,” Kebede said.