The picture differs for Black Americans. (See Table 5.) The percentage that family households were of all households declined from 83 to 72 between 1960 and 1985. Over the same period, the percentage of married couples declined from 61 to 37 percent of all family households, and the proportion of female-headed households rose from 19 percent to 31 percent of family households, an increase much greater than the comparable figure for whites.
How do these differences in the distribution of black and white households affect the condition of housing occupied and the risk of homelessness? One cannot say precisely. In general, one would expect family households, especially married couples, to have greater demand for higher quality units than non-family households; income, however, would determine the effectiveness of this demand (i.e., the ability of households to obtain the desired housing). Table 6 reveals that among all races, blacks, and whites, in 1985, married couples had the highest median incomes and therefore the greatest effective demand. Since a smaller proportion of black than of white households is married couples, blacks, collectively, would have less effective demand and therefore, collectively, might live in housing of lesser quality than would households of other racial groups. Thus, since the family composition and income distribution of black households differ from those of either white households or households of all racial groups, one could believe that the median ratios of rent-as-a-percent-of-income and of income-to-value for black households mask greater variance than these same medians for white households or for households of all races. More specifically, the 31 percent of black households headed by females in 1985 with median incomes of about $9,600 could represent a sizable number of households at risk of homelessness if they live in markets in which 30 percent of their incomes, roughly $240 a month, could only acquire substandard housing.( 10) (See Table 6.)
From the 1960s to the 1980s, although the housing situation of black Americans has improved with respect to condition and segregation, disparities remain. In addition, it may be true that black households are disproportionately disadvantaged by contemporary problems such as homelessness.
The percentages of black households housed comparably to households of all races continue to approach parity but only over gaps as large as decades. For example, although the 22 percent of black renter households in crowded units in 1970 reflects a 20 percentage point decline from this figure in 1940, it was 1950 when 22 percent of renter households of all races had lived in crowded units! It took 20 years for black renter households to "improve" to the level of residential crowdedness experienced by renter households of all races in 1950. Progess is evident, however; by 1980, the percentage of crowded black renter households equaled the percentage of crowded renter households of all races in 1970!
Thus, the dream and the reality continue to diverge, but the extent of the divergence appears to be lessening by some measures.