“How Homeowners in Rising Housing Markets Can Fight Displacement.” A podcast episode that originally aired on Nate Bowling’s Nerd Farmer Podcast. In this episode, Nate interviews Tacoma Real Estate Agent and Move to Tacoma Podcast Host Marguerite about Tacoma’s housing crisis and what we can do to fight displacement.
Nate and Marguerite have had an ongoing conversation about real estate and housing for years now. They talk about it ALL—generational wealth, displacement, capitalism, housing segregation, and more.
Here are just a few of the big questions Nate and Marguerite tackle. (Edited for clarity.) You can listen to the complete podcast episode here.
Nate Bowling: If housing patterns that exist in Tacoma continue at the rate that they are going, and policy changes are not put in place to expand the number of units being built, what is the near term future for our dear city?
Marguerite Martin: Well, prices went up 15% year over year last year. So I don’t know if you know that the median home price in Tacoma is now $450,000. If that happens again, we’ll be over $500,000. That means that in order to buy a house in Tacoma, (depending on your down payment, if you have some generational wealth, this might not apply), but you’ll have to make a lot of money to buy a house in Tacoma. Most people in Pierce County don’t make a lot of money. I mean, it’s median family income is $75,000, I think. So, we’re going to price out our community. We’ve already priced out most of our community, but we’ll price out the rest.
Nate Bowling: What has happened in the Tacoma real estate market basically over the last 12 years (since 2008)?
Marguerite Martin: When I bought my first house, the median price in Pierce County was $275,000, and the interest rate was, I think, 6.5% in 2004, 2005. Then at the bottom of the market—the trough as some people call it—is when my best friend bought her house, and I was terrified for her, because the prices had been going down for years.
She bought her house in Proctor for $192,000. The median price was, I believe, $175,000 for the county, and interest rates had already fallen at that point to the fives, maybe the high fours.
Then from there, things started to slowly climb. Even in 2015 though, when I started Move to Tacoma, we hadn’t gotten all our value back, but basically if you bought a house when I started Move to Tacoma, your house has doubled in value. For the last three or four years, we’ve been named as the hottest real estate market in the country. So while we are typical of what people in other communities are experiencing, we are like the worst case scenario, and our rental market also keeps showing up on lists.
The problem is, we know these people are coming, and we have known these people are coming. You can go to my website, Get Real Tacoma, and find articles I wrote in 2013. Like, “Don’t worry everybody, the largest generation in home buying history is going to be head of household, and building rates are at their lowest rates since World War II. We are definitely going to run out of houses and prices will recover.” I wrote that article in 2013 mostly hoping and praying it would turn out to be true—I’m not a housing expert, I’m just a real estate agent—but I wrote it, because I read it and it seemed true, and it’s true. We didn’t build, and we don’t have enough housing.
This is the important part, if we could just keep coming back to complicity: If you are a homeowner—a white homeowner in particular—in any community in this country, you’re complicit. Nobody in this situation gets to abscond or get rid of their responsibility, right? You have to take ownership of your part. You’re benefiting from the oppression and the exclusion of other people. That’s how the housing market’s set up.
Nate Bowling: Could you unpack that a little bit? Because you say that, I nod, Doug nods, but why do you say that?
Marguerite Martin: Okay. Because, let’s say my best friend (who bought her house in Proctor in 2011) managed to get in there without generational wealth but with her two income marriage, right? She buys the $192,000 house when a lot of other people are out of jobs and unable to do so—like she’s able to get the loan, she’s able to get it in the down market. A lot of people were not able to get into that market because of unemployment. Right? So she buys her house and … I mean, that house is probably worth $610,000 now, and she bought it for $192,000 in 2011. She doesn’t live there anymore, she sold it a few years ago.
But let’s say she was still there, so now it’s worth six something. Right? All of that equity that she’s gained is because they haven’t built any more houses in Proctor. And if she was in Proctor benefiting from that wealth game, while other people are excluded, she’s complicit. It doesn’t even matter if she’s advocating for lack of density or if she’s not advocating for density (which by the way is against her best interest), because if more houses are built in Proctor, her house becomes less valuable. Do you see how messed up this is?
It’s so easy for people to just be like, “I don’t know, I hate those NIMBYs, but look at my Zillow’s estimate!” Once you get on the property ladder, you have nothing to gain from density. You have nothing to gain from additional housing stock and everything to lose.
Nate Bowling: So, if the people who are benefiting from the housing market are homeowners (and homeowners tend to be more middle class, because how the F do you buy a home otherwise?) and they are the people that dominate the civic culture in communities, how do you unf*** the cycle? This is the thing I can’t get my head around, how do you un F this?
Marguerite Martin: Well, the call needs to come from inside the house, Nate. I mean, what we need is … For example, I met this woman in Portland, Lauren Goché, and she’s involved with a nonprofit there called Taking Ownership PDX. What they’ve done is they’ve created a fund where white realtors give up some of their money and put it into a nonprofit, and that money goes to helping Black homeowners keep their homes and prevent displacement. Because you can own a house that you bought in the 1970s for $80,000 that’s now worth $750,000, but how do you spend $10,000 on the gutters when you’re on SSI? Right?
So, that’s one nice thing. But somebody else that hadn’t heard about that group had a better idea. There was a white woman that owned a rental property and investment property that had generational wealth. She had bought it for $230,000, it’s now worth, I think, six something, and she sold it to a Black man who’d grown up in that neighborhood who could no longer buy. And she sold it to him for the cost of the loan.
Nate Bowling: So, what do you mean by generational wealth, and where does this generational wealth come from? Who has it?
Marguerite Martin: Honestly, Nathan, I heard that term and I didn’t really understand it until you explained it to me. So, this the way that I always explain it to other people: In 2016 you gave a talk at a conference in Tacoma that I hosted with your realtor and my dear friend Anne Jones. You began by explaining that your mom bought her house in the 1960s before The Fair Housing Act.
She was steered towards Hilltop, which is the historically Black neighborhood in Tacoma. You have a white friend whose mom and dad were steered to a different neighborhood in the North End. They bought a very similar sized home, and those houses basically have a difference in equity of about $250,000 by the time their kids were old enough to go to college.
When you said, “What could her family do with the $250,000? Start a business? Send their kids to college?” I think everybody in the room just went, “Oh shoot, yeah.” So that’s generational wealth, and we can see neighborhoods are, as you’ve pointed out many times, more segregated than before the housing act was created. Black wealth has been reduced since the Fair Housing Act was created. So whatever we’re doing as white people, whatever we’re doing as majority white institutions, majority white realtors, majority white legislators, to resolve racism, it seems like it’s not working because Black wealth is decreasing.
If you’re a white homeowner increasing your wealth through property, you’re benefiting from a system. Unearned wealth is unearned privilege. So, if you have a house in a neighborhood that has doubled in value in five years, while other families were displaced and you look at the numbers and the majority of those folks are people of color, what do you owe communities of color? What portion of your unearned wealth do you owe? That’s a great question to ask yourself.
You can listen to the complete conversation in the episode “How Homeowners in Rising Housing Markets Can Fight Displacement” on the Move to Tacoma podcast.