Inequality in Housing Still Pervasive, ACS Issue Brief Authors Say

January 26, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

In a time when many are seriously discussing the nation's inequalities, such as the growing gap between the nation’s wealthy and everyone else, authors of a new ACS Issue Brief say such discussion should not overlook or ignore large swaths of our society that are being dealt a harsher blow than others.

For example, the collapse of the housing market has taken an enormous toll on the middle class. But the National Fair Housing Alliance’s Jorge Andres Soto and Deidre Swesnik detail in their Issue Brief how African Americans and Latinos in cities throughout the nation have fared worse than others because of pervasive discrimination. The disparity is due in part, they assert, because of the “peddling of high-cost subprime, predatory loans in communities of color” They note that the Center for Responsible Lending found that among “borrowers with good credit, African Americans and Latinos received high interest loans more than three times as often as white borrowers among loans originated between 2004 and 2008.”

Citing a 2010 report from the NFHA and the Center for Applied Policy at the University of Wisconsin, Soto and Swesnik write that more than 28,000 complaints of housing discrimination were “investigated by private non-profit fair housing organizations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and state and local government fair housing agencies.” They add that the number represents a fraction of the “annual incidence of housing discrimination in the United State, an amount exceeding well over four million acts of housing discrimination. That amounts to at least 11,000 incidents of housing discrimination each day throughout the United States.”

And getting out of debt, according to a recent study by Robert M. Lawless, Dov Cohen, and Jean Braucher, is also significantly harder for black families, than white families. Reporting last week on that study, The New York Times said it shows that “lawyers were disproportionately steering blacks into a process that was not as good for them financially, in part because of biases, whether conscious or unconscious.”

Discrimination in housing opportunities, Soto and Swesnik assert, stand "in the way of establishing fair housing choice for all people.”  The Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968, was intended to end discrimination in housing, its promise has yet to be fulfilled.

Their Issue Brief, “The Promise of the Fair Housing Act and the Role of Fair Housing Organizations,” suggests ways for the federal government to make progress toward ending inequality in housing. For example, the non-profit and government groups tasked with investigating allegations of discrimination need more support, and the FHA should be amended to provide protections to other groups that studies have shown face discrimination in housing choice. It should not be legal, the authors write, to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or because of their legal source of income.

The NAACP’s Hilary O. Shelton will have more to say here tomorrow on the Issue Brief’s findings.