COMMENTARY: Reparations must include the costs of predatory lending
By Charlene Crowell, Communications Deputy Director with the Center for Responsible Lending | 7/24/2019, 10:32 a.m.
In recent years, the spate of homicides linked to questionable uses of deadly weapons and/or force, have prompted many activist organizations to call for racial reparations. From Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida, to Michael Brown’s in Missouri, Eric Garner’s in New York and many other deaths — a chorus of calls for reparations has mounted, even attracting interest among presidential candidates.
While no amount of money could ever compensate for the loss of Black lives to violent deaths, a growing body of research is delving into the underlying causes for high poverty, low academic performance and — lost wealth. Public policy institutes as well as university-based research from the University of California at Berkeley and Duke University are connecting America’s racial wealth gap to remaining discriminatory policies and predatory lending.
This unfortunate combination has plagued Black America over multiple decades. And a large part of that financial exploitation is due to more than 70 years of documented discriminatory housing.
The Road Not Taken: Housing and Criminal Justice 50 Years After the Kerner Commission Report, returns to the findings of the now-famous report commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson. In the summer of 1967, over 150 race-related riots occurred. After reviewing the 1968 report’s recommendations and comparing them to how few were ever enacted, the Haas Institute tracks the consequences of recommendations that were either ignored, diluted, or in a few cases pursued. Published by Berkeley’s Haas Institute for Fair and Inclusive Communities, it weaves connections between education, housing, criminal justice – or the lack thereof.
“Although in some respects racial equality has improved in the intervening years,” states the report, “in other respects today’s Black citizens remain sharply disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, as well as in neighborhood resources, employment, and education, in ways that seem barely distinguishable from those of 1968.”
In 1968, the Kerner Commission report found that in cities where riots occurred, nearly 40% of non-white residents lived in housing that was substandard, sometimes without full plumbing. Further, because Black families were not allowed to live wherever they could afford, financial exploitation occurred whether families were renting or buying a home.
As many banks and insurance companies redlined Black neighborhoods, access to federally-insured mortgages were extremely limited. At the same time, few banks loaned mortgages to Blacks either. This lack of access to credit created a ripe market for investors to sell or rent properties to Black families, usually in need of multiple needed repairs. Even so, the costs of these homes came at highly inflated prices.
In nearly all instances, home sales purchased “on contract” came with high down payments and higher interest rates than those in the general market. The result for many of these families was an eventual inability to make both the repairs and the high monthly cost of the contract. One late or missed payment led to evictions that again further drained dollars from consumers due to a lack of home equity. For the absentee owner, however, the property was free to sell again, as another round of predatory lending. As the exploitive costs continued, the only difference in a subsequent sale would be a home in even worse physical condition.