'Heirs Property' Could Help More Black People Enter the Homebuying Market

There's an estimated $34 billion in property stuck in legal limbo in Georgia, and some, like the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, think it should be leveraged for social equity.

December 5, 2019, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Sam Cook, former director of forestry for the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, in conversation with U.S. | U.S. Department of Agrigulture / Flickr

"In Georgia alone, an estimated $34-plus billion in property has no owner with a clear title," reports David Pendered.

"Heirs property is established when an owner dies without a will or document to be handled in probate. Heirs have rights to the property, but the title is not clear because the estate hasn't been resolved," explains Pendered. "The situation is familiar along the Atlanta BeltLine in Southwest Atlanta, where the Atlanta City Council authorized condemnation of land if no clear title could be located."

Pendered shares a line of argument suggested by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and others that heirs property could be leveraged to "address the black-white divide in homeownership and issues related to poverty."

"Blacks have the lowest homeownership rates of any group in the nation, according to an Oct. 29 report [pdf] by the Census," and heirs property could help fill that gap by making down payments easier.

The estimate of $34 billion in heirs property comes from a September report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [pdf], and the cause of connecting potential Black homeowners with state's bounty of heirs property has been amplified by an article by Vann R. Newkirk II, published by The Atlantic in September.

[Update: The headline of this article had been changed to reflect more sensitive language.]

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