The Falsehoods of the American Dream
The dynamic of American neighborhoods is shaped by numerous different things. The people who live there, the homes they keep, each city’s culture, location, and more. Most of us realize that our towns come with their own history and inhabitants that make up what we see on a daily basis, however, what we may fail to recognize is the nasty history that set many of our beloved American cities into a cyclical segregation that has kept neighborhoods from advancing. For years, mortgage discrimination put many black families at a disadvantage, making it more difficult to seek out new opportunities or accumulate wealth. Legal discriminatory practices have prevented black Americans and communities from improving their circumstances. The fact that rates of achievement are affected so heavily by one’s home and community makes this issue that much more significant. Working in Los Angeles high schools as a mentor has inspired me to research this issue, its origins, and potential solutions. Addressing issues for what they are, and how they began, is one way to relieve communities of stereotypes. Often times, people push the narrative that lack of achievement is due to “laziness”, and hard work will cure your unfortunate circumstance. But, by understanding the cyclical deprivation of resources to black communities, including adequate housing, that often-told story becomes clearly unfair and untrue. Our country’s achievement gap has multiple contributing factors, a major one being housing inequality. According to this New York Times article, if black families owned homes at rates similar to whites, the wealth gap would be reduced by almost a third. So in examining the causes and effects of the unequal housing within our nation, we can better understand the dynamics and disparities of our country today.
According to the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality “State of the Union” report, one in four black Americans are classified as poor. Staggering statistics like this are what illustrate the severity of the housing inequality issue in America. We can also look at student achievement, because a school’s success is reflective of the community it is apart of. Black youth and low-income schools are severely lacking the attention in the education system that they need to thrive. They have less access to opportunities because of their under-funded community, and, other than that, their home environment may not foster academic growth. Seeing this evidence paints a clear picture of the overlapping inequalities faced by black Americans. We can observe what they all have in common; they can all be related to housing inequality. Whether it is unstable housing, rental pricing that keeps families impoverished, or under-funded neighborhoods, the lack of money in the community, lack of sufficient housing, and lack of homeownership is at the root of it all. “Home ownership helps families accumulate wealth and take advantage of sizable tax savings. By contrast, being forced into the rental market can set off a domino effect of events that then make it more difficult to exit from poverty,”. Many black Americans are without access to homeownership, or even opportunities to education about preparing to purchase a home. Rather, we see cities full of families that are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. They are also surrounded by other families in similar situations and thus the community does not have the help they need because it’s inhabitants are all trying to stay afloat. Why do we see this segregated dynamic where the affluent live amongst one another and the impoverished do the same? This is the question we struggle to answer. We can see that having access to homeownership would clearly help solve the issue, so the research question at hand is: Why is the access so heavily skewed?
Looking at the history of America, we begin to see how unethical practices and legislation created some of the problems we face today. Historically, racism has plagued our nation and set minorities back since colonization. In more recent times, since our government has developed, politicians have enacted laws and regulations to keep black communities from flourishing how they otherwise might have. Eighty-four years ago, the New Deal programs were put in place by President Roosevelt in an effort to heal America from the Great Depression. Through these programs, the Federal Housing Administration legally restricted the efforts of people of color to become homeowners. This mortgage discrimination put many families into a cycle of poverty, spending large portions of their income on living costs and receiving little, while white homeowners continued to increase their financial success through tax-breaks and subsidies. A program that was meant to help citizens achieve the “American Dream”, made it legal for discrimination and segregation to take place for years in America.
Redlining, or refusing a loan to someone based on where they currently live, paired with mortgage loan discrimination has made access to homeownership very difficult for black Americans. Meanwhile owning a home is considered to be the primary asset-building mechanism, and the strongest way to accumulate wealth in this country. For 34 years the FHA was able to deny mortgages based on race and ethnicity, playing a instrumental role in the institutionalization of racism, and legal continuation of segregation. “Imagine a young family that has just enough cash saved up to get a mortgage. As they build equity in their home over the years, they can borrow against that wealth to weather financial emergencies—a car breakdown, a medical crisis, or whatever it may be. By the time their child is ready to go to college, they can afford to send her off—likely adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to her lifetime earnings and launching her into adult life debt-free”. This is just one of the luxuries afforded to white homeowners which propelled them, their communities, and their future generations much further than blacks in America.
Some people assume that these racist laws and regulations are apart of American history, however we can’t negate the fact that this history has a lasting, powerful impact on our present. It’s true that “policies that influence access to capital and credit have long-lasting effects on residential patterns, neighborhoods’ economic health and household accumulation of wealth.” Because of the deprivation of money and resources to black families and the segregation of the communities, our schools, and future generations have been affected dramatically. Although the Fair Housing Act is 50 years old, which means Redlining has been illegal for 5 decades, discriminatory practices became largely ingrained in our society and institutions. As recent as 2006, there were racist practices carried out in the American home loan system. Blacks were 2.8 times more likely to be denied for a loan, or 2.4 times more likely to receive a subprime loan, than white applicants in the American home loan system. These startlingly recent facts show just how much racist tendencies have become cemented within American institutions.
Critics of my argument may say that black Americans need to lift themselves up and “work hard” to achieve home-ownership, and to stop placing blame. However the facts show that our communities were segregated and stripped of their ability to grow financial stability because of government-funded racism. Expecting these communities to “fix themselves” on their own is unfair and unrealistic. The housing programs put in place in the thirties were meant to help white Americans, and give them the chance to rebuild their wealth after the great depression. Meanwhile, black families were set back even further, and are still expected to rebuild on their own.
A complex issue like this one has no one solution, so to determine how to ease this problem we must look at varied methods of doing so. As pointed out by Dr. Karenga in this article, we should start by strengthening our community through organizations and institutions. In his 2013 article which was published around the 18th anniversary of the Million Man March, he says, “supporting organizations and institutions of the Black community concerned with the uplifting and liberation of our people by joining as families and persons, volunteering service, giving donations and providing and insisting on the best leadership possible”. There is a need for community programs which will give black Americans access to information about the steps towards purchasing a home, or getting prepared to do so. As a real estate agent, I have the ability to serve communities and educate people about becoming property owners. I can be a vessel for black success and achievement, and an example of it as well. It’s true that mortgage inequality has legally segregated black America for years, making it difficult for black communities to prosper. This has lead to present day effects such as the wealth gap, and deprived generations of opportunities. But today, in 2018, we have the power to fight back.
We must join in demanding our government’s attention and support in the fight to close these gaps and decrease the disparities. We must also work together to share knowledge and pave pathways of success. The power of an educated, empowered, united front is unstoppable, and in America today, black communities are a fiery force. To identify our history and better our future, we are leading our next generation of black Americans to become a high-achieving group, that know both struggle and success.
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