Charlene Crowell

Wherever you live, or 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 deliberations on the future of affordable home ownership now underway with both the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and its counterpart, the House Financial Services Committee, are being conducted in private. 

“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,” the coalition wrote to leadership of both committees on December 15. 

The organizations that signed on 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, NAACP, UNIDOSUS, the National Urban League, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.   

Central to these discussions is the future of two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) – 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 – 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 the two GSEs 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 gave committee chairs a list of items they want to be addressed, including supporting federal anti-discrimination laws, providing adequate capital to taxpayers and the housing system and ensuring equal treatment for small lenders.  

Historically, black people and other consumers of color have experienced difficulties accessing private, conventional mortgage loans. Should housing finance reform fail to preserve access and affordability in mortgage lending, this problem could worsen.  

For Nikitra Bailey, an EVP with the Center for Responsible Lending, a firm commitment to affordable housing goals are essential to any housing policy discussion.    

“The GSEs’ affordable housing goals have made a tremendous impact on helping creditworthy borrowers purchase homes,”  Bailey said. “They are also a metric for accountability to address underservice to important and often excluded market segments, including people of color, low and moderate-income families, and rural communities. The goals must be strengthened and fully enforced, not rolled back.”   

Charlene Crowell is the communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

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