Real Estate & Housing

The Real Estate & Housing Subcommittee of the West Palm Beach Mayor’s Task Force on Racial & Ethnic Equality is in the process of identifying racial and ethnic disparities related to housing and real estate developments in West Palm Beach.

Committee members are identifying best practices, knowledge, and research needed to eliminate the disparities before making recommendations for change.

We recognize that YOU have knowledge to share about housing and real estate in West Palm Beach. Members of this committee are listening!


Based on feedback from the December 5th, 2020 and the June 12th, 2021 Racial & Ethnic Equality Action Summits held by the Task Force, West Palm Beach residents shared two top priorities regarding Real Estate and Housing. The subcommittee is currently discussing these priorities:

  1. Expanding options for decent and affordable housing for both homebuyers and renters
    1. Review housing policies and programs in the city
    2. Explore sustainable strategies and ways to implement best practices in affordable housing
  2. Mitigating financial barriers and increasing programs and funding for prospective homebuyers
    1. Assess investment disparities among neighborhoods and jurisdictions within the city
    2. Identify obstacles for new homebuyers, such as lender practices

Policy Recommendations

Under these two priorities, the Real Estate & Housing Subcommittee has submitted a list of policy ideas based on feedback from the Action Summits and the subcommittee meetings. Below you will find the proposed real estate and housing policy ideas that have been submitted to the Task Force for consideration. These ideas are currently being discussed and refined by the Task Force as they move towards presenting final policy recommendations to Mayor Keith James and the City Commission.

To learn more about the efforts of the Real Estate & Housing Subcommittee, please visit the Real Estate & Housing Project Library here to read the agenda and meeting notes from previous meetings. To stay up-to-date on the next steps, attend the Task Force meetings. The next meeting date can be found on the Calendar of Events.

Sign up for updates about the subcommittee and/or for our monthly Task Force email newsletter. Share comments about these priorities on our Facebook page.

We update this page regularly. Last updated 9/1/2021.

Did You Know?

  • In West Palm Beach, 59% of Whites own homes compared to 39% of Black residents and 37% of Latino residents.
  • In 2006, the peak year for subprime lending in South Florida, nearly 57% of black borrowers and half of Hispanic borrowers in South Florida received a high-spread loan compared with 28% of white borrowers.
  • West Palm Beach has one of the highest eviction rates among U.S. cities. There were 952 evictions in West Palm Beach in 2016.

Why Does Racial Equality Matter?

In West Palm Beach, as in other communities across the U.S., land development has been geared towards benefitting private interests: investors, developers, and domestic and foreign banks. Their focus: increased profits. 

Too often there is little regard for the social, economic, and ecological benefits of local community ownership, participation, and control. How will community members build their wealth? A history of racial equity–at the local, state and national level–has impacted access to housing and to the wealth-building opportunities of home ownership.

Many Americans — particularly residents in communities of color and low-income communities — are coping with increasing instability in their lives and livelihoods due to these dynamics of land development. 

Historically, these communities have been targeted for urban revitalization efforts. When it comes to economic development and socioeconomic stability, however, residents have often been treated as expendable.

1. People of color are missing out on the wealth-building potential of home ownership.

Homeownership is the main source of wealth for many Americans, but across the U.S., white families have much higher ownership rates than people of color. Speculative finance and investor-driven entities own the majority of available housing (housing supply) and dominate decisions as to who gets what housing (housing allocation). Home ownership has become increasingly out of reach for Americans due to rising student loan debt, unaffordable costs, and unstable employment prospects.

In the 1930s, the U.S. government opened up opportunities for Americans to purchase affordable homes–but not all Americans. Racially discriminatory practices like redlining contributed to racial segregation and excluded African Americans from the wealth-building opportunities of home ownership.

In West Palm Beach, 59% of Whites own homes compared to 39% of Black residents and 37% of Latino residents. 

2. People of color have been targets of predatory lending

Predatory subprime lending, the ensuing foreclosure crisis, and widespread speculation in rental markets has exacerbated racial inequalities. Read “The Heartbreaking Decrease in Black Homeownership” in the Washington Post (2019)

According to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) statistics compiled by Arlington, Va.-based Compliance Technologies, during the housing boom (2004-2007) South Floridians of color were more likely than non-Hispanic white borrowers to receive subprime/high-spread loans. Borrowers who have subprime/high-spread loans are more likely to default on their loans and ruin their credit because of the high interest rates.

In 2006, the peak year for subprime lending in South Florida, nearly 57% of black borrowers and half of Hispanic borrowers in South Florida received a high-spread loan compared with 28% of white borrowers. Black families earning $200,000+ annually were more likely on average to be given a subprime loan than a white family making $30,000 a year, according to research by Jacob William Faber, a sociologist at New York University who studies racial economic disparity.

3. Poverty is driving homelessness

Although individuals can lose reliable housing for a number of reasons – trauma, violence, mental illness, addiction, or another chronic health issue – poverty remains a notable factor driving homelessness. People of color are significantly more likely than white people to experience evictions and homelessness in the U.S: a consequence of centuries of structural racism that continues today. Purportedly race-neutral policies as well as racial discrimination have in fact systematically and purposefully excluded African Americans and others from equal access to housing, community supports, and opportunities for economic mobility.

  • West Palm Beach has one of the highest eviction rates among U.S. cities. There were 952 evictions in West Palm Beach in 2016. That amounts to 2.61 households evicted every day! Nearly 4 out of 100 renter homes are evicted each year. These rates have worsened during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • There are 4,414 homeless children in Palm Beach County (Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County)
    In Palm Beach County, 8,210 homeless adults accessed healthcare services in 2017 (Health Care District, Public Records Request 2017)
  • 67,476 families make 30% or below the Area Median Income (AMI) – for a family of 4, this means $25,100 per year (Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida)
  • The Lewis Center, the only central intake and resource center for the homeless, has 66 Beds (Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County)
  • In 2019, there were 1,397 people homeless on a given night in Palm Beach County. details

4. Discriminatory real estate practices help perpetuate racial segregation.

Housing discrimination has a long history and continues into the present. In 2012, white and black “homebuyers” (in fact actors) were sent to 8,000 randomly selected realtors. Black home-seekers were shown 18% fewer homes.

5. Sub-standard housing threatens the health and safety of people of color

Substandard housing conditions such as pest infestation, lead paint, faulty plumbing, and overcrowding disproportionately affect black and Latino families and lead to health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning, heart disease, and neurological disorders. African Americans are 1.7 times more likely than the rest of the population to occupy homes with severe physical problems.

Concentrated housing inequity also disproportionately exposes black communities to environmental pollutants and isolates black populations from essential health resources such as improved recreational spaces; quality pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals; and healthy food options.

42,886 families live in substandard housing – no fuel used, lacking complete kitchen facilities, lacking complete plumbing facilities, or more than 1 person per room (Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida)

 6. Rising rents, housing costs and climate gentrification are disproportionately impacting people of color.

While rents and housing costs are increasing, wages are not, especially for the jobs in which people of color predominate. Housing costs in coastal areas are also increasing as a consequence of “climate gentrification” in coastal cities–the buying up of homes in neighborhoods at higher elevations. Global warming also increasing risks of flooding, storm damage and other impacts. These impacts are being felt the most in low-income communities and communities of color.

  • In West Palm Beach, 135,510 families pay more than 50% of their income for housing. 60,306 of these families are making less than 30% AMI and of those families, 20,323 are senior citizens (Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida).
  • There are only 19 affordable housing units for every 100 families making less than 30% of AMI (Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida)
In 2015, Kerr and Downs Research conducted the survey that queried 600 West Palm Beach residents by telephone, 198 of whom were black residents (33 percent), over a ten-day period. Of the 600 residents in favor of building more affordable housing,

  • 87% were African Americans
  • 83% were younger residents
  • 87% percent of low-income residents

Hispanics and long-term residents were most concerned about housing costs, while younger residents were also more worried about economic development. Four out of five residents of District 3 (81 percent) favored building more affordable housing.

What Do Experts Recommend To “Close The Gap”?

1. Create tenant protections.

Prevent displacement, which has been shown to cause poverty, through tenant protections like just cause eviction ordinances, legal assistance, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase policies (TOPA) and Community Opportunity to Purchase policies (COPA), and rent control.

 2. Explore community wealth-building opportunities related to land development.

  • Limited Equity Cooperatives (LECs)—democratic, member-run cooperative organizations that limit the equity individual homeowners can accumulate, thus preserving long-term affordability;
  • Resident Owned Communities (ROCs)—democratic, member-run cooperative organizations that own the land in manufactured housing communities, thus protecting against displacement, poor conditions, and exploitative management practices;
  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs)—democratic, multi-stakeholder organizations that own land for the permanent benefit of the community and sell and rent homes with various resale restrictions in order to maintain long-term affordability;
  • Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs)—legally enforceable contracts between developers and local community groups that often include various land and housing related benefits and requirements; and
  • Land Banks—publicly owned or nonprofit entities that allow local governments to acquire abandoned or tax delinquent properties and prepare them for productive uses.

3. Build more affordable housing and supportive housing developments.

  • Supportive housing developments often attract or directly bring critical services to resource-barren neighborhoods, according to the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Many supportive housing developments are increasingly featuring on-site or direct linkages to gym facilities, after-school programs, recreational spaces, food pantries, recovery support groups and full-service health clinics that benefit the larger community.
  • In November of 2009, the Palm Beach County organization PEACE persuaded the County Commission to create a dedicated stream of revenue that would waive impact fees for the development of affordable housing. As a result, $2.4 million has gone toward funding 1,138 units of affordable housing.

4. Partner with anchor institutions.

  • Hospitals treating a large homeless patient population can forge partnerships with housing departments to help drive housing in the community.
  • Housing development partners can help place individuals who are homeless in houses and offer support that will help individuals maintain that housing.

Additional Resources

Major Support Organizations

Leading organizations that strive to advance new state and local policies.

National Low-Income Housing Coalition
The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes.

Research Resources

Online resources focused on new state and local policies.

Articles and Publications

Articles, reports, and papers focused on new state and local policies.

2019 Florida Rental Market Study (Florida Housing Finance Corporation)

The Case for Housing Justice in Philadelphia (report – PolicyLink, 2020)

Closing the Gap: Building Black Wealth through Homeownership (report – Urban Institute, 2020)
This report reviews the critical role housing equity plays in building wealth for Black families, the
policies that have interfered with wealth building through homeownership for Black families, and the
way the pandemic is exacerbating this gap. The report closes with a discussion of policies that can
reverse this trend and with a call for bold action.

Coalition Seeks New Zoning Rules to Support Housing Affordability—and Integration (article)
In recent years, some cities have started to change zoning policies used to protect white supremacy. Now, a Connecticut coalition has come together to alter the statewide framework for zoning rules. The coalition, called Desegregate Connecticut, has brought together over 60 groups over the past year and is seeking to rewrite state zoning frameworks. They recruited a team of volunteers to create a Zoning Atlas that merged 2,620 zoning districts and two subdivision districts into one interactive map. The idea is “to be a resource for people to understand how their community is zoned and how it compares with other communities and use that information to help promote change both within their communities and across the state.”

Community Control of Land and Housing: Exploring strategies for combating displacement, expanding ownership, and building community wealth (report – The Democracy Collaborative)
A historical legacy of displacement and exclusion, firmly rooted in racism and discriminatory public policy, has fundamentally restricted access to land and housing and shaped ownership dynamics, particularly for people of color and low-income communities. Today, many communities across the country are facing new threats of instability, unaffordability, disempowerment, and displacement due to various economic, demographic, and cultural changes that are putting increased pressure on land and housing resources.

As communities and policymakers alike consider ways to confront these threats—especially within the context of the urgent need for community and economic development—there is an emerging opportunity to develop strategies related to land and housing that can help create inclusive, participatory, and sustainable economies built on locally-rooted, broad-based ownership of place-based assets. This report provides an overview of strategies and tools that, as a group, represent an innovative and potentially powerful new approach—one that establishes, in various ways, community control of land and housing.

Eliminating Racial Segregation is Good Economic Policy (Planning, Winter 2021)
More than half a century after the Fair Housing Act outlawed policies like redlining, racial segregation continues to plague the U.S., even as it gallops toward an expected minority-majority in the next few decades.

Exposing Housing Discrimination (The Urban Institute)

Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California (report – PolicyLink, 2020)

Fair Housing Solutions: Overcoming Real Estate Sales Discrimination (report – National Fair Housing Alliance)
This report highlights the solutions that we know are effective for curtailing discriminatory real estate sales practices. It provides a brief historical backdrop of the nature and extent of discrimination in the real estate sales industry; outlines some of the costs related to discrimination and segregation; and itemizes the remedies our society must pursue to exact real, meaningful, and lasting change.

The Gap Report: Florida (National Low-Income Housing Coalition)

Home Matters (housing report by the Florida Housing Commission) (2020)

Long Island Divided (Newsday, 2019)
In one of the most concentrated investigations of discrimination by real estate agents in the half century since enactment of America’s landmark fair housing law, Newsday found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island. The three-year probe strongly indicates that house hunting in one of the nation’s most segregated suburbs poses substantial risks of discrimination, with black buyers chancing disadvantages almost half the time they enlist brokers. Additionally, the investigation reveals that Long Island’s dominant residential brokering firms help solidify racial separations. They frequently directed white customers toward areas with the highest white representations and minority buyers to more integrated neighborhoods.

Out of Reach 2020: Florida (National Low-Income Housing Coalition)

Racial Disparities in Home Appreciation: Implications of the Racially Segmented Housing Market for African Americans’ Equity Building and the Enforcement of Fair Housing Policies (Report – Center for American Progress, 2019)
This report focuses on the residential patterns of black and non-Hispanic white home mortgage borrowers and the racial disparities in home appreciation in neighborhoods where these borrowers purchase their homes. The neighborhoods where home buyers purchase their homes contribute to their home’s worth and its chance of appreciating over time, which has important implications for the long-term financial returns associated with home ownership. Before presenting original analysis of home mortgage lending to black and white home buyers prior to and after the 2008 financial crisis, this report discusses the government policies and other factors that have led to and continue to contribute to persisting African American segregation. The report also provides an overview of the Fair Housing Act in addressing housing discrimination and segregation.

Securing Our Future: An Initiative to Increase Economic Mobility and Reduce Poverty in Palm Beach County

State of Homelessness in Palm Beach County (report – National Council to End Homelessness)

Your Home’s Value is Based on Racism (Opinion article, New York Times, 2021)
Black Americans are often unable to build wealth from homeownership in the same way their white peers are, in large part because home prices are generally set by the people who make up the majority of buyers: white Americans. White families typically prefer to live in predominantly white neighborhoods with very few or no Black neighbors. Homes in these neighborhoods tend to have the highest market values because most prospective purchasers — who happen to be white — find them most desirable. Black Americans, on the other hand, tend to prefer to live in racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods. Research has shown that once more than 10 percent of your neighbors are Black, the value of your home declines. As the percentage of Black neighbors increases, the property’s value plummets even further.

West Palm Beach Consolidated Plan (plan, City of West Palm Beach, 2015-2020)

What is Climate Gentrification? (2020, National Resources Defense Council)
NRDC senior program advocate Sasha Forbes explains what it means to be displaced by climate change and why cities must invest in long-term housing affordability—and a self-sustaining future—for their low-income communities and communities of color.


Practical resources and interactive tools designed to help both on-the-ground practitioners and citizens.

Area Median Income (AMI) Cheat Sheet (tool)

The Eviction Lab (interactive tool)

Mapping America’s Rental Crisis (interactive tool – The Urban Institute)

Mapping Racial Segregation (CensusScope)
Use this tool to research segregation by selecting neighborhoods in cities and then analyzing the data based on race.

Know Your Rights as a Tenant (Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc.)

West Palm Beach – Surging Seas – Risk Finder (interactive tool – Climate Central)
Use this interactive tool to find out the risks of rising seas to West Palm Beach. See sites of risks, future projections, and risks to populations, buildings, land, infrastructure, contamination risks.

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