The University of Alabama

UA Researchers’ Study Indicates Foreclosure Rates Racialized in Tuscaloosa

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tuscaloosa’s mortgage foreclosure trends since the 2008 recession follow the race-wealth divide and disproportionately affect black residents, according to a study by two professors at The University of Alabama.

Dr. Bronwen Lichtenstein, sociology professor, and Dr. Joe Weber, associate professor of geography, analyzed foreclosure data in Tuscaloosa from 2008 to 2011 and found foreclosure rates were heavily concentrated in older black neighborhoods and mostly absent from wealthy white areas.

Their study, “Old Ways, New Impacts: Race, Residential Patterns, and the Home Foreclosure Crisis in the American South,” was published in The Professional Geographer over the summer and has garnered significant attention due to analyzing the race divide caused by foreclosure rates in a small Southern city, compared to the numerous studies that focused on sub-prime and predatory lending tactics, methods often criticized for targeting poor minorities and minority neighborhoods, in large cities.

Additionally, Weber’s analytical method of identifying spatial distribution of home foreclosure at the neighborhood level is unique in that he used density per square kilometer together with census tract data and foreclosure data to identify housing density in smaller cities.

Weber said larger cities can have hundreds of “tracts,” which provide a detailed view of housing trends. But in a smaller city, like Tuscaloosa, there are relatively few, and they likely include different types of neighborhoods and rural land.

“So, we mapped out individual addresses and created a continuous surface that allows us to identify clusters of foreclosed homes,” Weber said. “Our approach revealed trends not apparent if the standard census zones were used. We also used 2010 census data in the study, while most other studies used 2000 data, so our study provides a more up-to-date look at foreclosure trends.”

“I believe that this refined approach is pretty novel, because most analyses of this type use national or large-scale datasets, rather than data for a single city or county,” Lichtenstein added.

According to the study, “the results indicate that blacks and whites experience different patterns of foreclosure and that the housing crisis exacerbates geographical patterns of residential segregation.”

While the nationwide foreclosure crisis was often blamed on predatory lending, inflated property values and developers over-building, Tuscaloosa experienced the majority of its foreclosures in areas populated mostly by African-Americans and in homes that were built in the 1950s and ‘60s, according to the reports. The report states many of the properties were in “somewhat blighted” neighborhoods and consisted of apartments, rental properties and modest, single-family homes.

Alberta City, Southside and Westside areas of Tuscaloosa were among the areas found to have higher concentrations of foreclosures than predominantly white neighborhoods found on the north side of the Black Warrior River.

Lichtenstein said many of the foreclosed properties in Tuscaloosa were “green-lined,” which means that lenders targeted low-income neighborhoods for special attention with predatory loans. A lot of the residents could only get high-interest rates with low deposits, adjusted up to the point where people could no longer pay them.

“These are segregated neighborhoods,” said Lichtenstein. “It’s very intimately tied to race and residential segregation. The South has a history of it, but so do cities in the north like Baltimore and Chicago.

“People, generally speaking, think of foreclosure as an equal opportunity crisis,” said Lichtenstein. “Most don’t realize how racialized it is. After we did our analyses, it was so stark.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.