Connecting state and local government leaders

Ferguson's Fragile Housing State

Protest against police brutality in July in Newark, New Jersey.

Protest against police brutality in July in Newark, New Jersey. A Katz /


Connecting state and local government leaders

Recovery is lagging behind the county's, state's and nation's.

One year after the death of Michael Brown, the community of Ferguson, Missouri, is still enduring the shocks of the police shooting that claimed his life. Some residents say, though, that the community is closer-knit today than ever—that they’d never leave Ferguson.

By one measure, many residents may not have much of a choice. Foreclosures in Ferguson jumped by nearly 73 percent between the first half of 2015 and the last half of 2014. Although the real figure of foreclosures is small—less than 100 in total between January and June 2015 for Ferguson—the rate stands out compared with rates for Missouri overall or nationwide.

The housing market in Ferguson is not recovering fast. It’s not that homeowners facing foreclosure or underwater mortgages are suffering because of policing or protests, of course. Rather, the troubled housing market is another example of the circumstances that make life so difficult for some residents in Ferguson to begin with.

“In a healthy housing market, Ferguson would mirror St. Louis County a little more closely,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, the group that prepared the mortgage data. The number of equity-rich mortgages, for example—meaning properties with at least 50 percent equity—is 7.5 percent of all Ferguson mortgages. (That figure, from the second quarter of 2015, is actually up a point from the previous year.) But consider that the share of equity-rich mortgages at the county level is almost double (14.6 percent). It’s even higher nationwide (19.6 percent).

“If we look at St. Louis County, the percent of homes [with seriously underwater mortgages] dropped 9 percent from a year ago, compared to Ferguson, which only dropped 1 percent,” says Blomquist.

While aspects of housing are improving in Ferguson, they are improving more slowly than for the county, the state, or the nation. On the one hand, the number of seriously underwater homes in Ferguson—meaning that the loan amount for a property is 25 percent higher than its estimated market value—actually declined by a lot between Q1 2015 and Q4 2014 (almost 10 percent).

But the share of seriously underwater homes in Ferguson (42.9 percent in Q2 2015) is simply much, much higher than rates at the county (19.0 percent), state (17.5 percent), or national level (13.3 percent).

It will be hard for the city to heal when the fundamentals are so far gone for so many residents.

This article was originally published at CityLab, an Atlantic Media partner.

(Photo by A Katz /

Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab

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