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Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin are filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against Janette Miller, the woman who appraised their home approximately $500,000 than she should have. The couple lives in Marin County in Northern California, and they became more sure of the legitimacy of their claim when they asked their white friend to pretend to own their home instead.
“We believe that Ms. Miller valued our house at a lower rate because of our race and because of the current and historical racial demographics of where our house is located,” Austin said. Miller is from Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, and she is being sued by the Austin family and the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
According to Mercury News, the couple was shocked when the appraisal of their home was significantly lower than earlier appraisals suggested it should have been. According to Metro News, despite $400,000 in renovations, the value of the couple’s home only increased by 10%.
ABC7 San Francisco explains that the couple bought the home in 2016. The initial cost was $550,000, and the couple’s ability to even purchase a home was severely obstructed by racial discrimination in the housing market and ignored bids and calls.
The couple looked into getting another appraisal and took steps to hide the fact that black people owned the home. They then asked their white friend to pretend to be the owner of the property.
The Independent recalls how their friend, Jan, reacted when asked for help. “We had a conversation with one of our white friends, and she said, ‘No problem. I’ll be Tenisha. I’ll bring over some pictures of my family.’ She made our home look like it belonged to her.”
Julia Howard-Gibbon, a lawyer for Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, explains what happened, “The fact that there was nearly a half a million dollar bump in value after they erased themselves from their home is very strong evidence, we believe, of race discrimination.”
The need to ‘whitewash’ the home, Tate-Austin says, “[has’ implications to our ability to create generational wealth or passing things on if our houses appraise for 50% less than its value.” After the ‘whitewashing,’ the home was appraised for $1.48 million. BET explains that this is much closer to the median home value for a single-family home in the county.
The suit claims, “Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics.” This was counteracted by the later appraiser by looking at more similar homes within a wider radius of the property.
These actions by the second appraiser kept the result from being overly influenced by race based factors. A 2018 Brookings Institute study found that Black neighborhoods are appraised for 23% less than White neighborhoods, even when there were great similarities in amenities and quality.
Marin County’s population is reportedly over 85% White and less than 3% Black, but the Black population is concentrated into few areas.
The Austin family is now seeking damages and a jury trial, claiming emotional distress, physical injuries, and violation of civil rights. “My stomach hurt, my head hurt, just because of what we went through. I don’t wish that on anybody,” claims Paul Austin. They’re also asking the court to order Miller and her company to ensure there will be no more discrimination during home appraisal.
Newsweek claims that the couple was able to get a loan based on the second appraisal in March 2020, but had the home been appraised more accurately earlier they would have had access to more fair and favorable terms. Tate-Austin commented on the ridiculous need to erase her race in order to get the accurate appraisal, and claims that “these discriminatory practices have the effect of lowering property values in Marin City, which harms us and harms our community.”