It’s National Fair Housing Month. And no one’s paying attention | Opinion

Opportunities to achieve the American dream of homeownership remain anything but fair or equitable

By George Fernandez

April is marked as National Fair Housing Month. It’s also the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the landmark civil rights law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, that made discrimination in housing transactions unlawful.

But what have we accomplished in the last five decades?.

While the U.S. homeownership rate has continually increased during the last decade, people of color continue to endure significant buying challenges throughout and even after their home purchase, according to a report released in March by the National Association of Realtors. This report shares that only 44% of Black Americans and 50.6% of Latino Americans presently own their home. Compare this to the 72.7% of White homeowners and you’ll begin to see the alarming picture of the racial gap in homeownership.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was designed to prohibit discrimination in housing because of race, color national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, and familial status. But the vision of utopian mixed-race neighborhoods with white picket fences and tree-lined streets remains a far-off fairytale. The real story is much more somber.

More than half a century after this Act was signed, Black and Latino home buyers still face extra challenges in getting a mortgage. According to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, 20% of Black and 15% of Hispanic loan applicants are denied mortgages annually, compared with about 11% of white and 10% of Asian applicants.

Voters embraced affordable housing initiatives. Advocates say Congress should do the same.

People of color also spend nearly 30% of their income on housing. Even among successful home buyers, Black and Latino Americans historically have lower household incomes, which narrows the available pool of inventory they may be able to afford and makes their journey into homeownership even more difficult in this limited housing inventory environment.

Compounding this problem is a lack of access to education focused on financial literacy. Individuals limited by their credit scores and financial situation are left completely helpless due to a lack of access to information and resources to help dig them out of a sinking hole of debt. To further exasperate the problem, migrant and immigrant communities are at a severe disadvantage due to language barriers and racial profiling. And this gap has only continued to widen.

This issue needs to be elevated to a forefront concern for everyone. And with April being National Fair Housing Month, this is our call to wake up and pay attention. Owning a home is the foundation of the American dream and the true beginning of being able to create wealth in America and lay roots in a community.

We must do better as Americans for each other.

Those who are in a position of power and influence must prioritize creating solutions that focus on universal equity, especially for low-income housing.

And first, we must remove all the unnecessary red tape. We must think outside of old solutions that are not moving the needle. And we must clear the path for progress by removing cumbersome and outdated roadblocks.

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Counties right here in Pennsylvania can and should strive to lead by example. Township commissioners, code officers, and local government officials need to refocus their energy on maximizing the use of existing streets and buildings that are in disrepair and make it a smoother, more collaborative process for interested developers to revitalize these areas.

The existing roadblocks and red tape make it nearly impossible to welcome community revitalization projects to the region. I speak firsthand when I say that a dream and desire to help create low-income housing opportunities is no longer enough.

Significant changes to policies, procedures, and mindset need to happen to overcome the major hurdles that stand in the way of community partners, developers, and well-meaning citizens who want to help solve the fair housing crisis. And for the sake of the many families who risk going homeless tomorrow, that change needs to happen today!

George Fernandez is passionate about creating safe, affordable, and uplifting living environments for those in need, which is fueled by his own personal experience. He is the Founder and CEO of Fernandez Realty Group, a minority owned development company with ties to the immediate community, and Latino Connection, a local social determinants of health agency that exists to meet the needs of diverse and underserved communities.  His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.