Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Syracuse aims to empower Black families to secure generational wealth

A row of three houses and a large tree across from them
Brad Spelich
Learning to pass on the family home is at the core of maintaining generational wealth.

Black families make up almost 12% of all households in the U.S., but only possess about 4% of all household wealth. At the end of 2023, on average, a Black family owned 24 cents for every dollar a white family owned.

This inequity has historical roots – and future consequences, in terms of creating and maintaining generational wealth. In Syracuse, some experts believe that's due in large part to a lack of access to one, deceptively simple resource: estate planning.

Real estate attorney Edwina Schleider knows that passing down assets can be tricky legally but says, it doesn't have to be.

"The best way to keep a property within a family, or to carry out what a property owner's wishes (are), is to have a will," said the Onondaga County lawyer.

Without one, in New York, the civil Surrogate Court decides who inherits what. By state law, it prioritizes keeping assets within a family, but that same law created a hierarchy of relationships, and tasks a judge with handling the process.

Meanwhile, having a will helps ensure that a family – and not the courts – maintains control. That's especially important when it comes to what is usually a family's biggest asset, said Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens.

"Retaining homeownership generationally, it's really about generating and maintaining generational wealth," Owens said.

There are many historical reasons why Black families may not know that. In Syracuse, says Owens, one has been the steady loss of well-paying factory jobs since the 1990s, which has shrunk the Black middle class, isolating many from financial and legal resources. She says many Black Syracusans, with deep roots in the city, just haven't been shown how to protect their own homes.

"If you choose to sell it, let that be because you choose to sell it, but not because you haven't acquired the tools to maintain that legacy asset in your family," she said.

Owens said people don't need to wait until they're old to think about future generations. To help them, the city plans to host a workshop for wills and trusts on May 14t at 5:30 p.m. at the Southside Innovation Center.