After receiving her third appraisal, Duffy filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against the mortgage lenders and appraisers, alleging they discriminated against her on the basis of race. The lawsuit hopes to spark a federal investigation into companies violating fair housing laws by allowing race to impact their appraisals and lending practices. Alongside the two appraisers, identified as Tim Boston and Jeffery Pierce, CityWide Home loans, Freedom Mortgage, and some of the two companies’ employees are the responders.
According to the complaint, Duffy did not understand why she was assigned the lower values until she read the appraisal report. “The wording in it just it sent out red flags,” Duffy said. “It said there were comps within the half mile, but it said the quality of construction of the other homes were far more superior to the quality of construction of my home.”
Duffy even said she provided the appropriate paperwork to counter the appraisal amount given to her home; however, CityWide said no change would be made despite this documentation.
In order to see if her appraisals were actually as data-driven as the appraisers argued, for her third appraisal Duffy did not declare her race or gender during the application and only communicated via email. As the time for the appraisal drew nearer, she told the lender she would be out of town and that her brother would be home. Her friend’s white husband then filled in as her brother.
“I staged my home to look as ethnically neutral as possible,” she said. “I was just numb to it, and I think it was more so numb just because it was me just going through the process like I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.” Duffy shared that she even took down pictures of herself and removed African American art and any books that might indicate her race.
“I get choked up even thinking about it now because I was so excited and so happy, and then I was so angry that I had to go through all of that just to be treated fairly,” Duffy told Fox 59.
This isn’t an isolated case. Multiple incidents have been reported in which Black homeowners have been discriminated against and been given significantly lower appraisals than their white counterparts. Additionally, studies have found that homes in neighborhoods where there is a higher population of Black people are valued at about half the price of those with no Black residents, according to Brookings Institution.
In a similar incident to Duffy’s, a California couple went viral after unveiling that their home was undervalued by more than $500,000 before their second appraisal during which they had white friends pose as the owners, ABC 7 News reported.
“It’s almost when people see Black neighborhoods, they see twice as much crime than there actually is. They see worse education than there actually is,” said Andre Perry, a senior fellow for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “I think this is what’s happening when appraisers, lenders, real estate agents see Blackness. They devalue the asset. They devalue the property.”
In another incident, a biracial couple in Colorado decided to only have one of them present during an appraisal after they suspected racism played a part in the interaction. During the first appraisal of Gwen and Lorenzo Mitchell’s home, an appraiser signed the value of $405,000. The couple was surprised at this number as other homes in the area were significantly higher.
“Because I’m Black, we realized he picked the houses from the Black side of Park Hill,” Lorenzo told The Washington Post. “That was the first red flag.”
The couple then scheduled a second appraisal with Gwen, who is white, arranging to be home alone. That appraisal gave a $145,000 higher value for the home.
“We didn’t change the house at all,” Gwen said “We didn’t paint any walls or mow the lawn or do anything different.”
While Duffy is satisfied with her third appraisal, what she went through to get it is beyond disheartening and is an example of the systemic oppression Black Americans continue to face nationwide.
“I want to see the system changed,” Duffy said. “I don’t know if we can, but I’m up for the fight.”