Everyone knows that April is the month of spring showers and April fools.
It is sometimes the month of Easter in the Christian tradition and Passover in the Jewish tradition.
April is home to obscure national days dedicated to niche interests ranging from astronomy to zippers. But at Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity, we are highlighting the fact that April is Fair Housing Month.
While the 1968 Fair Housing Act codified protections from housing discrimination into law, racial disparities remain embedded in the American housing landscape as the enduring legacy of decades of discrimination. In other words, fair housing is not a historical accomplishment but rather an ideal we must continue to work and strive for.
While fair housing work covers all forms of housing, not just access to owner-occupied housing, Habitat for Humanity is particularly focused on the way discrimination continues to impact homeownership opportunity since that is our organization’s core.
Habitat for Humanity’s mission, put simply, is to increase access to homeownership through the construction and affordable sale of homes. On its surface, this work addresses a present-day need: the need for safe, affordable, owner-occupied homes for lower income families in our community.
But when we dig deeper, we see that this work is contextualized by a long history of serious inequity and discrimination in housing. Decades of harmful governmental practices shut people of color out of homeownership opportunity beginning in the mid-20th century, during which time the government was simultaneously offering heavy incentives and subsidies for white families to buy homes.
These practices continue to haunt the housing market today – one illustration of their enduring legacy is that Black households make up close to 20% of the population in Rockford but own only 4% of the city’s housing value.
While the Fair Housing Act turns 55 years old this month, the fight for fair housing must continue in order to undo these lingering harms. We are an equal housing lender that serves everyone equally regardless of race, but we have a responsibility to acknowledge the way that race has informed access to credit in this country, and we are intentional about making our mortgage equitably accessible for everyone.
Accordingly, our mortgage loan bears no interest so that homeowners can build equity faster. Our closings require only a minimal cash down payment so that there is no need to rely on wealth arising from generations of owning property. Our underwriting criteria uses inclusive credit evaluation and is more lenient than a conventional bank so that applicants are not permanently precluded from homeownership if they have limited assets. And we work to educate our homeowners on unfair practices like appraisal discrimination that can prevent them from getting fair value out of their homes.
In other words, to every extent we can, we aim to divorce the opportunity of benefiting from homeownership from all of the barriers that have taken root in the mortgage market.
This Fair Housing Month and every month, we acknowledge that if we, as a country, are to realize the Fair Housing Act’s decades-old goal of creating a community in which everyone has fair and equal access to housing, we must recognize that fair housing is not yet preserved in the amber of history; it remains a call to action and a moral imperative today.
Caitlyn Baylor is homeowner services and grants director at Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity.
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April 2, 2023 at 11:04AM