By Magaly Munoz and Jordan Parker | Special to The OBSERVER

LaMills Garrett stands in front of the train at the entrance to Historic Downtown Roseville. The 70-ton steam engine — one of only two of its kind still in existence — is significant to the presence of Union Pacific and the long history of the railroad as a cornerstone of South Placer. Jameel Pugh, OBSERVER

The South Placer County suburbs are among the least ethnically diverse communities in the Sacramento region. However, this area is always changing and growing.  New census figures reveal that Black residents have increasingly found their way to these cities over the past decade.

Placer County saw an increase of approximately 56,000 people from 2010 to 2020, according to new Census 2020 data. Of that increase, 2,013 new residents were Black. While those are relatively small numbers, they represent a big increase from previous decades. The number of Black residents in Roseville rose by 64%, Rocklin by 48%, Lincoln by 39% and Granite Bay by 34%

“The main draws are the perception of good schools, safe communities, acceptable commutes to job centers, and reasonable access to cultural events and inclusion in Sacramento and the Bay Area,” said former Roseville City Council candidate LaMills Garrett when asked why Black families are moving to South Placer.

“The good thing is that other ethnic minorities and families from inclusive and diverse areas are also moving to South Placer, thus the tolerance of exclusion and racism towards Black families is decreasing relative to what was experienced over the past few decades.”

Real estate agent Keisha Mathews echoed Garrett’s sentiments on the variety of reasons that Black families find these areas attractive. 

“The geographic and economic location of these “white” neighborhoods in comparison to South Sacramento — broader and cleaner streets, brand new construction all around, lush landscapes lining streets and sidewalks, safe walkable and bikeable paths and trails … Who wouldn’t want that if you could afford it,”  said Mathews, a native of South Sacramento.

“They are ultimately trying to escape the brand of poverty imposed on us as African Americans and have the choice of healthier community and housing choices.”

The median sale price of homes in Sacramento County in September 2021 was $505,000, which Mathews said could get families a starter home in Placer County. However, she added that a price of $350,000 — enough to buy homes in Valley Hi and Florin — would give buyers a payment of $2,000 per month. In order to qualify for these homes, Black families would have to make at least $72,000 per year.

2021 Sacramento County Demographics show the median income for African American households is $54,688 while the median income for white households is $81,871. Mathews said that means many Placer County communities are “just not affordable for a majority of Blacks,” which will restrict how diverse those communities can become.

However, Wayne Wiley, economic development manager of Roseville, said his city has made a strong commitment to affordable housing.

“Although we can’t say if that is accounting for an increase in various racial groups (the data provided does not provide information on the income levels of the various ethnic groups), we do know that ensuring affordable housing options is critical to providing housing opportunities for all groups within our community,” Wiley said via email.

Tanisha Broadway, Greater Sacramento’s NAACP Housing chair, said that Black residents are moving to areas like Placer on their own since racial disparities and opportunities for Black home ownership are still low.

“Based off of living here and being in the industry for over 17 years, what makes sense is African Americans looking for better opportunities as far as schools,” Broadway said. “Even more opportunity for new home development, even looking to buy a house that’s brand new.”

According to the California Department of Education, Black or African American students are more likely to pass English and math at an average or above average rate for standardized testing in Placer than in a county like Sacramento.

“I would say that there’s a higher percentage of school districts having more opportunity than areas like Sacramento,” Broadway said.

Sacramento is a much more diverse county than Placer County but it has a median income that is much lower. Data shows that high income levels correlate with educational achievement and college attendance. In Placer County, where median household income is about $98,000, families can afford tutors and give more money to schools. 

Broadway said Black families are likely leaving places like Sacramento in order to get their kids into schools where test results are higher and community financial support is better. 

“Other data to support the reasoning for overall growth in Roseville is also likely attributed to the following: Safe community, employment opportunities, parks and recreation, access to healthcare, schools and education, utilities, business friendly leadership, etc.,” said Wiley. “Those are often-cited reasons people move to Roseville or locate their businesses here.”

Broadway said that despite more Black residents moving to south Placer, the environment there isn’t changing fast enough. In Roseville alone, she says, in her experience, Black-owned businesses are lacking and there doesn’t seem to be a push to bring more diversity.

Even with recent gains, only 2.4% of Roseville residents identify as non-Hispanic Black, followed by about 1.6% in Rocklin and Lincoln and 0.9% in Granite Bay.

The chart below shows the number of Black residents in Roseville rose by 64% over the 2010 Census.