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We must confront the connection between homeownership and inequality, and the centuries of systemic racism that have enabled it. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the connection between health and stable housing. The disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino families, who are more vulnerable to job and income disruptions, will result in waves of evictions and foreclosures. (This report paints a grim picture—it estimates that up to 22 million renters and 15 million homeowners are at risk.) The protests against police violence and discriminatory enforcement have mainstreamed an understanding that unequal treatment under the law has persisted. Much of that unequal treatment has been carried out through our housing policy and practice. Well-known is redlining, the practice in which, starting in the 1930s, the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) graded communities so that some were eligible for lower-cost, federally insured mortgages. Borrowers in other communities were excluded. The HOLC described entire communities in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, as “now given over to the city’s undesirable element.” In case there was any confusion, the official form included the percentage of residents who were “foreign-born” or “Negro,” and whether these percentages amounted to an “infiltration.” These practices poisoned the housing market, and their impacts remain with us today, in our community planning and in our political discourse.
Traditional redlining is just the best known of our intentional policies that discriminated against families of color; steering, predatory inclusion, exclusionary zoning, and appraisal and insurance redlining, among others, have also played a part. Those policies (and their legacies) aggravated and enforced segregation, tamped down home appreciation, and limited intergenerational transfers of wealth between Black families. Because of these policies, the homeownership gap between Black and white households remains where it was when Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Today, 73 percent of white families are homeowners; just 44 percent of Black families own their homes.
Most Americans would reject ...