Dr. Carson must address Severe Economic Injury to Communities of Color: NFHA

The National Fair Housing Alliance strongly urges Dr. Ben Carson, in his new role as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to tackle immediately the many critical housing challenges that our country faces.  Many of these are a legacy of the financial and foreclosure crises which disproportionately impacted America’s communities of color. These communities have yet to recover.  Housing inequality has had a devastating effect on individuals, communities and businesses and HUD plays a pivotal role in eliminating this inequality. The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and its members [including Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS)] across the country invite Secretary Carson to work with us to address these pressing issues.

Statement from Lisa Rice, Executive Vice President of the National Fair Housing Alliance on the Confirmation of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Housing discrimination continues to be a significant problem in this country, unfairly limiting people’s choices about where to live. NFHA estimates that more than 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually. In addition, in recent months we have seen a disturbing uptick in hate activity, including the targeted vandalism of people’s homes because of race, national origin and religious affiliation.  These acts violate the Fair Housing Act, which HUD enforces, and we look to Secretary Carson to marshal the resources of the department he leads to combat this problem, and to fight all forms of housing discrimination. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Carson said he would “aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act,” and referred to the law as, “one of the best pieces of legislation which we’ve had.”

Life expectancy, educational attainment, chances of being incarcerated, access to quality healthcare, household income, exposure to violence and employment opportunities are all impacted by where we live, as is our opportunity to accumulate wealth through homeownership. In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, the homeownership rate for African Americans is the lowest it has been since 1970, fueling the country’s significant racial wealth gap.   This should not be the case.  We will continue our collaboration with HUD to ensure that every place is a place full of opportunities.  Our children deserve no less.  Our nation’s continued strength and prosperity hinges on getting this right.  We have no time to waste.

NFHA’s goal is to eliminate housing inequality and expand housing opportunities and we are ready to work immediately with the new Administration on the following key priorities to expand housing choices.

1. Stop Housing Discrimination and Expand Housing Choice

Based on an analysis of HUD data, over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur on an annual basis. In recent months there has been an uptick in hate activity based on race, national origin and religious affiliation. NFHA has worked with HUD for over 25 years to engage in a range of activities including training, education, outreach, research and enforcement to reduce levels of discrimination and to expand equal housing choice. It is important that we improve and strengthen programs that have proven to be economically efficient and widely successful. For example, the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, established under President Ronald Reagan ‐ with bipartisan support ‐ and made permanent by President H. W. Bush, was designated by the Government Accountability Office, as one of the most effective federal programs the agency had evaluated. The Program received this designation because it was administered by a group of highly trained and efficient non‐profit fair housing organizations who brought critical services directly to people on the ground. We must ensure that this program continues, is vigorously supported, and serves its intended purpose. We must also make sure that HUD’s employees have the training and resources they need to effectively investigate complaints of discrimination, monitor HUD program compliance with the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws, and assist communities to affirmatively further fair housing.

2. Affirmatively Further Fair Housing

National Fair Housing Alliance

When President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law on April 11, 1968, seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, “At long last, fair housing for all is now a part of the American way of life. We have come some of the way‐not near all of it. There is much yet to do.” His words still ring true today. We have made important advancements but, unfortunately, a person’s destiny and opportunities in life are often determined by where they live.

The Fair Housing Act is designed to change this persistent problem but it has not been fully used to attain this goal. Municipalities and jurisdictions play an important role in either restricting housing choice or expanding it. The tools and guidance that HUD has made available to communities, in fulfillment of the law, help them effectively identify barriers to equal housing opportunities and then design strategies at the local level to ensure that regardless of where people live, they have access to quality amenities and services that help families and children thrive.

It is important that we keep moving forward. Going back is not an option. We must ensure that every community is truly a place of opportunity. The Fair Housing Act and HUD’s implementing Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule are important resources in helping us achieve that goal. But we must work together to improve training for community‐based organizations,public officials and servants, and HUD employees to better understand which policies and practices stifle housing opportunities and which expand them. We must work in partnership with one another to implement effective housing planning to benefit individuals, families, communities and businesses. We must also collaborate on ways to reduce housing unaffordability, expand affordable housing options, improve public services and amenities so that they effectively benefit all residents in a community, and make housing equity a reality.

3. Expand Credit Access to Qualified Consumers

Too many credit‐worthy consumers do not have access to mainstream credit markets. In the lead‐up to the foreclosure crisis, we saw too many instances where lenders wrongly steered borrowers who qualified for prime credit into the subprime and non‐traditional credit markets. Many studies and enforcement actions showed that these borrowers were disproportionately people of color who had been preyed upon and targeted by lenders for higher‐cost, unsustainable, predatory loans. As a result of these and other discriminatory lending practices, consumers of color continue to disproportionately access non‐prime mortgages and other types of credit in the alternative financial services market – 46% of African Americans, 40% of Latinos and 38% of Native Americans access credit in this space while only 18% of Whites access credit from non‐traditional sources.

The alternative or non‐traditional credit system is much less regulated, offers products with higher costs and onerous terms, and does not function in a manner that helps consumers build wealth or maintain healthy credit. In fact, many non‐traditional credit service providers like payday lenders, check cashiers, title money lenders and buy‐here‐pay‐here financiers do not report consumers’ payment habits to credit repository agencies – ensuring that consumers’ good credit behavior will not be reflected in credit repository systems. When consumers access credit from alternative financial service providers, they often become trapped in this system with no way to access the more affordable, sustainable financial mainstream.

HUD plays an important role, particularly as the fair lending regulator for the GSEs {Government Supported Entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] and a major enforcer of the Fair Housing Act, in making sure that credit markets operate fairly. We must create portals to help ferry people from the non‐traditional financial market to the financial mainstream. We must remove barriers to fair credit access that stifle communities, destabilize families, and exacerbate wealth disparities. We must ensure that the GSEs, FHA and other financial services providers are using state‐of‐the‐art technology,like newer and better credit scoring models that more accurately assess borrower risk and consider alternative forms of credit that accurately predict risk such as on‐time rental payments. We must also guarantee that the secondary housing finance market lives up to its mission to provide credit liquidity, especially for credit‐worthy under‐served borrowers who too long have been left out of the financial mainstream.

4. Strengthen and Stabilize Neighborhoods

While many communities have rebounded in the aftermath of the foreclosure and financial crises, there are still far too many neighborhoods that have not recovered. Homeownership rates for African Americans, Latinos and other groups are at historically low levels and the U.S. is losing 500,000 affordable housing units every year. The effects of the crises, which disproportionately impacted communities of color, continue to impede housing and economic recovery in these very same communities. Moreover, a significant number of foreclosed properties in African American and Latino neighborhoods are maintained and marketed in substandard fashion, causing market values in these areas to remain depressed. The Fair Housing Act must be vigorously enforced so that foreclosed properties in communities of color are well‐maintained and quickly returned to the marketplace so they can be sold to owner‐occupants who will care for the houses and the communities in which they are located. We must ensure that HUD oversees its FHA [Federal Housing Administration] mortgage servicers to ensure that delinquent borrowers are considered for all available options to avoid foreclosure.We must also ensure that HUD’s neighborhood stabilization programs are optimized and fully supported so that we can continue important work to revitalize and stabilize communities.

5. Strengthen the Capacity of Non‐Profit Partners

Local non‐profit fair housing organizations, the backbone of NFHA’s membership, provide critically important on‐the‐ground, direct services to everyday Americans who are in need. These organizations help victims of housing discrimination and collaborate with local stakeholders, industry and otherwise, to strengthen communities, stabilize neighborhoods and expand housing opportunities.

It is imperative that we support these front‐line organizations by providing them with the resources they need to do their important work and training and capacity development initiatives to help them be more effective. It is also important that we keep the lines of communication and collaboration open between these groups and HUD officials so that HUD better understands what is actually happening on the ground and can be a more
effective partner in strengthening our families and communities.

Founded in 1988, the National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of more than 220 private, nonprofit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals from throughout the United States. Through comprehensive education, advocacy, and enforcement programs, NFHA provides equal access to apartments, houses, mortgage loans, and insurance policies for all residents in the nation.