Despite rising housing unaffordability, we in the real estate business know that homeownership is still a fantastic way to build generational wealth. Not surprisingly, affordability is inextricably linked to fair housing, as fair housing (and lending) for all is foundational to affordability for all.
When affordability meets fair housing
Recently, during a coaching session with an agent, that agent shared how a recent seller, Bob, sold his home of 20 years and made so much money on the sale that he was able to purchase a retirement home in Savannah, Georgia, and have plenty of money left over for a nice retirement nest egg. This doesn’t take into account any of his pension as an auto plant worker. Congratulations to Bob, as that is the power of U.S. homeownership.
Today’s reality of affordability
But imagine if Bob’s appraisal had been lowballed? Or, if he had not even been able to purchase that particular home because he was steered elsewhere or was unfairly denied the loan he needed? What if the community was currently being redlined, which would limit the types of homebuyers bidding on his home?
Sadly, those hypotheticals are still a reality for some, even as we approach 2024.
Interestingly, there are two common trends the Department of Justice is seeing in redlining and other unfair housing (and lending) enforcement actions — both of which impact and trigger unaffordable housing. They include:
- Lenders’ awareness of redlining risks, sometimes for years, without taking corrective action.
- Evidence of discrimination in employee or manager emails, i.e., disparaging descriptions of certain neighborhoods or overt animus towards protected groups.
Recent examples from the news
“CFPB fines BofA $12M for failing to collect data on mortgage applicants”
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) imposed a $12 million penalty on Bank of America (BofA) for violating federal laws by submitting false mortgage lending information for about four years, it announced on Monday. According to the CFPB, hundreds of loan officers at BofA failed to ask mortgage applicants demographic questions and falsely reported that they had chosen not to respond.” (Source: HousingWire)
This is significant not only because it violates federal law, but often, the only way we can hold companies accountable for unfair lending and housing practices is through the data collected. In other words, the expression, “No face, no case; no names, just games,” becomes a diabolical prophecy.
“KeyBank’s betrayal of Black and low-income homebuyers continued in 2022”
“KeyBank made 19.2% of its home purchase loans for the year to low- and moderate-income (LMI) borrowers, down from 19.7% in 2021. This modest but significant one-year decline understates KeyBank’s longer-term performance for non-wealthy families seeking to buy a home to live in: In 2018 more than 38% of such KeyBank loans went to an LMI borrower. Both data points look even uglier when compared to other top lenders, who made more than 30% of their 2022 purchase mortgages to LMI borrowers …” (Source: NCRC.org)
Fair housing and lending is for everyone and not simply the wealthy. Back to Bob’s American dream. Can you imagine if he did not even have the ability to apply for his home loan? As an auto plant retiree, he likely would have been excluded based on this data.
“Citigroup fined $25.9M for discriminating against Armenian Americans, federal regulator says”
“In its investigation, the bureau found that Citi employees were instructed to single out applications that had Armenian last names, but then to conceal the real reason why those applications were denied. These employees knew they were running afoul of bank laws that prohibit discrimination against national origin, and kept any decisions off recorded phone lines or writing it down. ‘Citi stereotyped Armenians as prone to crime and fraud. In reality, Citi illegally fabricated documents to cover up its discrimination,” said Rohit Chopra, the director of the CFPB, in a statement.’” (Source: ABC7.com)
Unfortunately, the implications of someone’s name or how they sound when speaking are not a new consideration in unfair housing, meaning there is still work to be done. Imagine if Bob’s credit application was instantly rejected simply because of his last name. How quickly he would have been thrust into an American nightmare.
How to make a difference in your market
With just these three instances, clearly unfair housing (and lending) still exist. But we are not powerless.
Consequently, we need more Fair Housing DECODERS, which is an acronym for all of us who are fair housing advocates.
As Fair Housing DECODERS, let’s reflect on how we can demonstrate the letter “R,” which stands for “Reporter” from the acronym in relation to the above recent real estate news.
What do reporters do? They report!
To elaborate, let’s make sure we are aware of and are sharing vital fair housing and lending news with our networks so everyone can make informed decisions about which banks (and other companies) to patronize.
- Keep up with critical fair housing and lending data. I recommend signing up for no-fee Google alerts. You can set up an alert for national as well as local news with an alert like, “fair housing in [insert your town and/or state].”
- Proactively keep your network informed with vital fair housing and lending news. However you currently reach your network is a great start. Do you enjoy sending a mailer or newsletter? Great, try adding a “fair housing corner.” Prefer TikTok, Instagram or YouTube videos? Videos work well, too. Simply add a monthly or quarterly vlog on fair housing. There is no limit to how you can keep your network informed.
- Improve your personal business dealings based on the various fair housing and lending news alerts. Perhaps your preferred lenders and other vendors lists could use some end-of-the-year purging. We have the local sway to hold fair housing and lending violators accountable by asking them how they plan to champion fair housing and lending going forward (they should include timelines and benchmarks). I would also suggest not recommending them until they have a satisfactory, proactive plan with corresponding actions. All businesses should be given another chance if they are willing to remain accountable and supportive of fair housing. When we know better, let’s do better.
As real estate agents, we have an opportunity to decode and interrupt unfair housing when it tries to rear its ugly head in our everyday operations, which can influence affordability for our neighbors. Let’s make the most of each opportunity.
Lee Davenport, PhD, is a real estate coach/trainer and blogger who trains real estate agents and brokerages on how to work smarter with technology.