Yolanda, 61, owns a home in the predominantly Black 7th Ward neighborhood in New Orleans.
To fix her leaking roof in 2020, she had to borrow money.
“It’s one of them credit card loans,” she said. “Like interest of 30% and all that, you know. I was kind of backed up against the wall, so I just went on and made the loan, a high-interest loan.”
As a sociologist who has spent the past 10 years studying housing conditions in the U.S., I led a research team that conducted interviews with homeowners who are struggling with basic maintenance such as rotting wood siding and floors, mold, crumbling brickwork, outdated plumbing and leaking ceilings. Our first paper from this project is currently under peer review.
Like Yolanda, our interviewees—whom we gave pseudonyms to protect their privacy—were almost all Black women over the age of 60 who lived in old buildings in neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of discrimination—such as redlining and inequitable land use decisions—and disinvestment.
Once a lively district of Black businesses and homes, the 7th Ward has become an area of high poverty since the I-10 expressway was built during the 1960s directly through its heart.
Yolanda had already been living there for a decade before the highway was built.
Though brightly painted, Yolanda’s home is separated from I-10 only by an empty lot, and the constant noise and higher rates of pollution make it hard to imagine Yolanda would be able to sell her home for a profit or use its declining value as equity.
Did Yolanda take out a high-interest loan for nothing?
Was she throwing good money after bad?
These are not easy questions to answer.
Like other Black female homeowners whom we interviewed, Yolanda had to choose between debt and disrepair.
As she explained, she was “backed up against a wall.”
The Racist and Sexist History of Disrepair
According to a 2022 analysis of federal census data by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly a third of homeowners who earn less than US$32,000—about 4.8 million people—spent nothing on maintenance or improvements.
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