A Four-Part Series Exploring the Realities of Marginalized Communities from Within.
What follows is the third installment of a four-part series examining the reasons why poor and minority Americans are often unable to believe in equitable access to homeownership and the benefits that entails. Many scholars have studied the effects of poverty and institutional racism on the poor and minority populations of the U.S. Few from within these communities have been able to speak for themselves. This series is an attempt to let a member of this population speak for himself. The author, Aaron Morales, is a Latino who grew up in poverty in the U.S. Southwest during the height of 1980s gang violence that ushered in our modern era of international gangs, cartels, and organized crime operations stemming from south of the U.S. border. Though his experience is in no way indicative of all poor and minority Americans, it is still a valuable insight into the root cause of the mindset of assumed exclusion.
Part Three: The Fog of Mistrust
Whether impoverished or not, for people of color, there is also a fog of mistrust.
I have many minority friends, family, and colleagues (former and current). And the one thing that ties us together as people of color is a pervasive sense of distrust of even the most well-intentioned people and institutions. Yes, of course we know there are many kind and genuinely respectful people in the United States. People who honestly want to build welcoming and inclusive communities. Or else, how could our country still be functioning? Like many Americans, we have worried in recent years that the whole “democracy project” would unravel before our eyes. But, as our political stresses wax and wane, the one thing that remains a constant is the generational awareness—inherited from our forefathers—that the system is rigged against us. And we don’t have to look far to see this mistrust and skepticism verified all around us. To see that this is a well-placed and much-earned mistrust.
Yes, legally, we are not supposed to be discriminated against. We know there are laws that are supposed to protect us, level the playing field, give us access to fair credit and homeownership and the American Dream. But then we look at the numbers, and they tell a completely different story than the fairness and inclusion narratives we push as a country. If 75% of White people own homes, and only 49% of Hispanics do, as well as only 44% of Black families, that fact alone shows a disparity somewhere. But where is it? Is it that White Americans make more money? Get better jobs? Better education? Have more access to loans and the other mechanisms of homeownership? Well, yes. And no.
We know, for example, the historical practices of keeping us out of desirable neighborhoods across the country that are still alive and well today in new forms. We are aware of the practice of redlining (though we might not know the term for it) that took place post-Civil War during the Great Migration, as Blacks moved from the Jim Crow south and fanned out across the country seeking a better life. Banks and realtors and government officials and community organizations drew lines around neighborhoods they deemed undesirable (read: too many minorities) and virtually locked us out of the better parts of our cities and towns. Within these redlined areas, banks largely refused to lend, citing the inability or utter lack of interest in backing what they deemed to be high-risk or unprofitable loans.
More recently, leading up to the 2008 housing bust and the Great Recession that followed, banks simply updated these very same tactics that ended up sending the global economy into a nose-dive. This is not news to us, because we’ve seen it firsthand. Banks still turn away minorities at far greater rates than our White counterparts. For those with distressed mortgages, their homes are being foreclosed and snatched up at faster rates than ever before, despite the passage of Dodd-Frank in 2010, which was intended to provide more protections for the people hit hardest by predatory lending and sub-prime mortgages. This law that was supposed to help poor and minority homebuyers and homeowners was quickly picked apart and was systematically declawed by banks with clever workarounds.
I witnessed the results of these practices myself, in late 2008, when I was canvassing for the Obama campaign in a low-income neighborhood of a mid-sized town in Indiana where I lived at the time. Every third or fourth home was deserted, in the process of being foreclosed or the tenants recently evicted. Doors were wide open. Furniture and clothing strewn about the yards and on the dilapidated porches of the now-vacant homes. The people who needed help the most were the first to be booted out onto the streets. And, for the lucky few who managed to stay afloat, the desperation and fear in their eyes was palpable. They eyed me with suspicion when I knocked on their doors, then their faces flooded with relief when they realized I wasn’t there to remove them, but rather advocate for a Presidential candidate who promised to fight for them and their check-to-check existence. These are images I will never forget. The people who hugged me or invited me in while they ate dinner. The people who cheered me on as I spent the evening hours after work reaching out to them to let them know I was there with them. I, too, was a mere check or two away from homelessness at any given moment.
Just when it looked like things might get just a little more fair—with the passing of the 2015 “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing” provisions to the Fair Housing Act of 1968—HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in 2020, gutted and killed the program in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and its global economic devastation, replacing it with the “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice” Rule that no longer held banks accountable or required them to report their mortgage demographics. In short, it was back to business as usual.
And even before that happened, Trump installed into the highest positions of power the very same people preying on poor and minorities in the years since the Great Recession. The very same people who created the companies that scooped up tens of thousands of distressed homes and turned them into squalid corporate rentals.
The list goes on and on.
We don’t need to look far at all. We don’t need to dig very deep to see that the historical wrongdoings done to poor and minority Americans are still happening to this day. Nothing has changed but the veneer on the mechanisms used to keep us out. Even if we can’t articulate it, we know it to be true. The people who want to keep us out and not lend to us fairly, if at all, just find new ways to do it. We are not stupid. We know we’re not welcome. Biden’s recent executive order proves just that. We will see if it makes any difference.
When our own police and government arrest and prosecute us because we ask them to stop killing us, to stop shooting unarmed people of color—especially Black men—what does that tell us? The message is clear: Be grateful for what you have and keep your mouth closed. It could be worse.
And so, why should we trust people’s stated good intentions? How are we to know which banks or brokers or police departments are actually fair and equitable? The quest to uncover that answer is exhausting and depressing. Better to just go about life with a healthy level of suspicion and paranoia. It just might be the reason you stay alive. Better that than the alternative.
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Aaron Morales is the Social Justice Writer for AHP 75, based out of Chicago, IL.