CNN Opinion: Rashida Tlaib: How to reverse the decline in black homeownership

Aug 07, 2019

By: Rashida Tlaib


This summer marks the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, which paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the expansion of civil rights in this country.

These three landmark pieces of legislation pushed back against discrimination and segregation and the impact of each cannot be overstated: Schools and universities across America were forced to take meaningful steps to desegregate; African Americans, especially in Southern states, were granted unprecedented access to the ballot box; and racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing was banned, a first step in desegregating entire neighborhoods.
While that progress should be celebrated, it is now more important than ever to acknowledge how far we’ve strayed from their intended purposes. When black homeownership is plunging across the country — with the worst losses of all here in Michigan — something is broken.
    In Detroit for example, we are seeing more and more of our families renting instead of owning their own homes. The result is less economic stability for residents and communities, especially when 56.8% of households in the 13th congressional district pay more than 30% of their income for housing — the threshold for affordability.
    Census Bureau data shows that black homeownership nationwide has fallen to the lowest rate in nearly 50 years. And last year, a series of reports released by the Urban Institute showed Michigan suffered the steepest decline, from 60% in 2000 to 41% in 2016.
    While there are a number of contributing factors, including the Great Recession spurred by Wall Street greed and predatory lending, one thing is certain: Provisions in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 do not go far enough to protect our communities in this time of corporate-driven economics that puts profits before people.
    An analysis of 31 million mortgage records by The Center for Investigative Reporting found that mortgage lending redlining persisted in 61 metro areas — including Detroit — with people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos, being denied home loans at disproportionate rates.
    And the White House is determined to make the situation worse.
    The Trump administration is eliminating existing protections that serve as the last line of defense against the declining rate of minority homeownership. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for example, recently proposed gutting the disparate impact protection granted by the Fair Housing Act, which says that banks, landlords and other housing providers may not enact any policy that has a discriminatory effect — even if the policy was not intended to be explicitly discriminatory. This is critical, especially when lenders have used practices that get around showing intentional discrimination.
    Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has announced its intention to roll back the 2014 expansion of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), an Obama-era set of rules meant to combat modern-day redlining.

    The CFPB intends to give 1,720 banking institutions, many of which serve low-income and communities of color, a pass on having to report the race and gender of customers receiving and being denied loans. It also intends to cut off public access to lending data that housing advocate groups have used to flag for trends of modern-day redlining.

    These rollbacks would rob Americans of the dream of homeownership, a vital part of the economic stability for families across the nation. One answer is to oppose the Trump administration’s policy changes and demand that these protections remain, but even more critically, we need to update the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) so that megabanks are only given credit when they make loans to individuals who are low and moderate income and require so-called non-banking institutions, like Detroit-based Quicken Loans to also comply with the same rules.
    Since 1977, the CRA has driven inclusion and equity in the financial markets. The act compels banks to serve the credit needs of their communities. It became an indispensable tool for historically marginalized communities excluded from the financial mainstream. Currently, 98% of banks passed their CRA examinations, and the CRA as currently written does not successfully address the lack of access to banking or the community development needs in my district.
    Much of my district is either unbanked or underbanked, with few options or access to credit. Although some banks in my district have been criticized for performance in some areas that is not satisfactory, ultimately, they still receive their CRA credit largely because they lend in low and moderate income areas versus receiving credit for lending to low and moderate income borrowers. It is time to explore a change that would ensure that CRA credits are based more heavily on a person’s income, rather than location.
    We must also ensure that area assessments of banks continue to be based on the locations of their branches and beat back attempts to change this. The Community Reinvestment Act should be as community-focused as possible, and that means the policy should be reflective of the community’s true needs.

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