Abstract

This paper analyzes differences in the likelihood that black and white families become homeowners. By following a sample of black and white renters over time, we are able to separately study racial differences in the likelihood of applying for a mortgage and in the likelihood that a mortgage application is accepted. Although its effect on the race gap in housing transitions is small, we find strong evidence that black applicants are almost twice as likely as comparable white households to be rejected, even when credit history proxies and measures of household wealth are accounted for. We show that the housing transition gap exists primarily because blacks are less likely to apply for mortgages in the first place. The analysis suggests that differences in income, family structure, and in the ability and willingness of parents to provide down-payment assistance are the primary reasons for this applications gap. We speculate that the portion of the gap that remains unexplained after controlling for income, demographics, and wealth may be the result of blacks anticipating a greater chance of rejection when they apply for mortgages.

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