Homeowner files bias complaint after removal of Black art, photos leads to $100K appraisal increase

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INDIANAPOLIS (WXIN) — A Black Indianapolis homeowner has filed a housing discrimination complaint alleging that after she removed items that identified her race and asked a white male friend to sit in on an appraisal, the value of her home jumped more than $100,000.

Carlette Duffy filed the complaint in conjunction with the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI). Last year, Duffy decided to jump in on the hot housing market and refinance her home, located in a historically Black neighborhood just outside downtown Indianapolis. Duffy planned to use her equity to purchase her grandparents’ home nearby.

After two home appraisals came back at or below the price she paid for the home in 2017, Duffy thought something was wrong.

“When I challenged it, it came back that the appraiser said they’re not changing it,” Duffy said.

After Duffy saw FHCCI Executive Director Amy Nelson speak to a community group about discrimination in housing appraisals, during which she pointed to a recent New York Times article about the issue, she decided to try her own test.

“I decided to do exactly what was done in the article,” Duffy said. “I took down every photo of my family from my house. I took every piece of ethnic artwork out. So any African artwork, I took it out. I displayed my degrees, I removed certain books.”

Duffy asked a white male friend to sit in on the home appraisal. In addition, she did not declare her race in her application or communications with the appraisal company. The new appraisal came back at more than double the first two, valuing her home more than $100,000 higher.

“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 said.

In the two complaints, Duffy and FHCCI ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the difference in the appraisals. In the first two appraisals, Nelson said comparable sales, or comps, were pulled from Black neighborhoods more than a mile from Duffy’s home rather than those nearby that were closer to the specifics of her house.

“Whether or not those comps were fairly selected is something that is the basis of the complaints that we have filed,” Nelson said.

Duffy was able to use the third appraisal to purchase her grandparents’ home. She hoped that her case would serve as a catalyst to examine discrimination and bias in the appraisal and housing industry to ensure a fair process.

“I’m doing this for my daughter and I’m doing this for my granddaughter so that when they come against obstacles, they will know that you can stand up, you can say that this is not right,” Duffy said.

“We think it’s happening a lot more than is being reported and we want to get the word out to know that we are here as a resource for individuals if they feel this may be happening to them,” Nelson said.

You can read more about the FHCCI’s investigation into appraisals here.

WXIN reached out to the appraisers and mortgage companies named in the complaints and did not receive any comment, though one appraiser did say by phone that he had not been made aware of the complaint.

Rodman Schley, president of The Appraisal Institute, which represents appraisers across the country, sent a statement, saying in part, “When we see even one story of a consumer who feels they were treated differently because of their race, it’s very concerning because that goes against everything we stand for. Appraisers take a lot of pride in being an objective source of real estate value information.”

He said a project team will be reviewing reports of “diversity, equity and inclusion in appraisal.” He added, however, that an appraisal is only “one piece of a larger ecosystem to look at when it comes to housing issues.”

“We don’t think there is any one solution to a problem rooted in hundreds of years of history,” he said. “We believe that overwhelmingly, there are more good people in this world than bad, including in the appraisal profession – and that today, more than ever, people are committed to listening, learning and changing. That said, it is widely accepted that unconscious bias is real, and no profession is immune from that.”

Schley encouraged anyone who thinks they have experienced housing discrimination to report it.

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