An African American Perspective on America's Housing Crisis, and How the White House is Addressing It
Jill and I live in a neighborhood that was once predominantly African American and now has become gentrified, with Latinos and whites replacing many of the long-term African American residents. Approximately one quarter of African American residents have left our city in the past 15 years, largely because of soaring housing prices. We know only too well how hard it is for African Americans to purchase and keep a home. That’s why we are sharing this article written by Charlene Crowell and published in the July 4th issue of the Pasadena Journal, a locally owned and operated African American newspaper. It presents a perspective worth keeping in mind: our nation’s housing crisis has had a much more severe impact on the African American community than on whites because of policies that are either racially biased or don’t take into account the historical legacy of racism in our country. As people of faith, we are called to treat all people without “partiality” and to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, regardless of skin color, socio-economic background, or ethnicity (see Galatian 3:28 and James 2:1).
A Harvard report ﬁnds that only 36% of all consumers could afford to buy their own home in 2018. With higher priced homes in 2019, the affordability challenge worsens.
“It is equally noteworthy that once again this key report shares how consumers of color continue to face challenges in becoming homeowners, noted Nikitra Bailey, an EVP with the Center for Responsible Lending. “According to the report, only 43% of Blacks and 47% of Latinos own their own home, while white homeownership remains at 73%.
“This 30% disparity deserves further examination and proportional remedies,” continued Bailey. “Greater access to safe and affordable credit, better fair housing enforcement, preservation of anti-discrimination laws – including disparate impact – can play a role in eliminating homeownership gaps. Further, as the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are publicly debated, a renewed commitment to serve all creditworthy borrowers must be embraced.”
Calvin Schermerhorn, a professor of history in Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and author of The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860, holds similar views to those expressed by Bailey. In a recent Washington Post op ed column, Schermerhorn addressed the historic disparities that Black America continues to suffer.
“One-ﬁfth of African American families have a net worth of $0 or below; 75 % have less than $10,000 for retirement,” wrote Schermerhorn. “The enduring barriers to black economic equality are structural rather than individual…. “Escalators into the middle class have slowed and stalled, and the rung of the economic ladder one starts on is most likely where one will end up.”
On the same day as the Harvard report’s release, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that establishes a new advisory body that will be led by HUD Secretary Ben Carson. A total of eight federal agencies will work with state and local government ofﬁcials to remove “burdensome governmental regulations” affecting affordable housing.“Increasing the supply of housing by removing overly burdensome rules and regulations will reduce housing costs, boost economic growth, and provide more Americans with opportunities for economic mobility,” stated Secretary Carson.
If Secretary Carson means that local zoning rules favor single family homes over multi-family developments is a fundamental public policy ﬂaw, he may be on to something. However, this focus misses the crux of the affordable housing crisis: Wages are not rising in line with increasing housing costs. And now, after the housing industry continues to cater to more afﬂuent consumers, while many older adults choose to age in place, the market has very little to offer those who want their own American Dream, including some who are anxiously awaiting the chance to form their own households.
Builders have historically, not just of late, complained about the time it takes to secure permits or the series of inspections that must be approved during construction and before properties can be listed for sale. What is missing from this new initiative is a solution to the ﬁnancial challenges that average people face.
It was scant regulation and regulatory voids that enabled risky mortgage products with questionable terms that took our national economy to the brink of ﬁnancial collapse with worldwide effects. Taxpayer dollars to rescue ﬁnanciers while many unnecessary foreclosures stripped away home equity and wealth from working families.
Time will tell whether new advisors and proposals remember the lessons from the Great Recession.