Civil rights groups push to open housing policy deliberations

12/29/2017, 1:44 p.m.
Wherever you live or your household size, home is a special place where children are raised and memories are made. ...

Charlene Crowell

Wherever you live or your household size, home is a special place where children are raised and memories are made. Owning a home is also the largest, single investment that most families make in a lifetime.

Since the nationwide housing crash, family outcomes have varied. While some households have witnessed full recovery, others – often people of color – wonder when or how they, too, can turn the proverbial financial corner.

Now, nine national civil rights organizations are demanding to know why related deliberations of a key policy issue on the future of affordable housing are being conducted in private. The deliberations are now underway in the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and its counterpart, the House Financial Services Committee.

“Our constituents represent the majority of future homebuyers, and any system that is not structured so as to ensure that they have fair access to safe and sustainable mortgages will not serve the country well,” wrote the coalition to leadership of both committees on Dec. 15.

Signing the letter were the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific Community Development, the Center for Responsible Lending, National Fair Housing Alliance, the NAACP, UNIDOSUS (formerly known as the National Conference of La Raza), the National Urban League, National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“At a time when the national homeownership rate is declining, and local rents are skyrocketing, every effort should be made to increase sustainable homeownership opportunity and make rental housing more affordable,” the coalition continued. “Alternative facts and false math should not be used to undo the access and affordability provisions that have helped secure opportunity for hardworking families for more than 25 years.”

Central to these discussions is the future of two government-sponsored enterprises — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. During the housing crisis, the Federal Home Loan Corporation, more commonly known as Freddie Mac, and the Federal National Mortgage Corporation, or Fannie Mae, went into federal conservatorship. As a result, the entities created decades ago by Congress to reduce the cost of credit for low and moderate income households have remained in government control.

Now, as much of the housing market has recovered, questions are being posed as to when or how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will return to private operations. Secondly, as housing costs continue to soar for renters and homeowners alike, affordable housing is a growing concern nationwide. Without an affirmative policy in place, many low and moderate income consumers, as well as consumers of color, could easily question whether fair access to mortgage credit will be possible for them.

The civil rights organizations’ letter offered committee chairs a list of 10 items that, if left unaddressed, will trigger organized opposition:

  1. Align with and support long-standing federal anti-discrimination laws and enforcement;

  2. Provide adequate capital to protect taxpayers and the housing system;

  3. Serve all credit-worthy borrowers;

  4. Eliminate and ban excessive risk-based pricing;

  5. Serve all markets across the country throughout the business cycle;

  6. Require utility regulation and expand restrictions that prevent risky behaviors;

  7. Ensure equal treatment for small lenders;

  8. Promote cost effective loan modifications;

  9. Strengthen FHA and preserve low down payment mortgage loans; and

  10. Address the federal government’s history in fostering racially discriminatory mortgage lending policies.