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EDITORIAL: Don't restore racist housing discrimination

Gazette - 8/12/2022

Aug. 10—Colorado's housing crisis hurts the poor, whether they are Black or white.

It wasn't always like that. Before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, we had rampant race-based housing discrimination. Merely affording a home wasn't enough. One often had to look a certain way.

Real estate agents would "steer" minority and white buyers into their respective neighborhoods. Banks "redlined" Black neighborhoods and excluded them for mortgages.

"The 1968 Act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) handicap and family status," explains the Housing and Urban Development's website.

The law requires lenders, sellers and landlords to base decisions on economic factors — not the group identities of applicants and buyers.

That's why we are put off seeing one of Colorado's more important nonprofits base a new program on race.

Donors established the Elevation Community Land Trust in 2018 with $24 million to help low-income Coloradans buy homes. Additional fundraising has the trust on track to put low-income buyers in 1,100 homes by 2027.

The trust buys homes on the open market and lowers the price with the assistance of grants from cities, counties and towns. The land beneath each home goes into a trust tied to the structure with a 99-year land-use covenant. Each buyer rents the land from the trust for $100 a month.

This model of "shared equity" innovation helps people of every conceivable background.

Sadly, we cannot say the same for the Land Trust's new "Doors to Opportunity!" program. It helps low-income buyers with down payments up to $50,000 for homes on the open market. It offers $20,000 in down-payment assistance for homes on Land Trust properties.

But not everyone gets a shot. To qualify, applicants must "identify as black, indigenous, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, or other person of color."

This looks, feels and sounds like race-based discrimination against most Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. The latest census data show 58% of Hispanics identify as white. A 2021 poll of Latin Americans showed only 2% identify as Latinx and 40% consider the label offensive.

Tiana Patterson, legal director for Elevation Land Trust, said a "carve out" in housing law likely allows the program to exclude low-income people without qualifying identities.

She cites a guidance statement on "Special Purpose Credit Programs" by HUD's office of general counsel. It says Congress expanded the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1976 to allow for discrimination intended to assist "an economically disadvantaged class of persons ...."

Throughout much of our country's history, racists made homeownership difficult and nearly impossible for minorities. Demographically, minorities remain at a statistical disadvantage in terms of generational wealth. It is unfair, but we should not try fixing it by assuming two discrimination wrongs amount to a right.

Poverty hurts and kills across all genetic lines. This century's low-income Hispanic and non-Hispanic white families had nothing to do with racist norms of the past. Regardless of "class" identity, a person without a home and money has no generational wealth.

Elevation Land Trust should listen to Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia state director of rural development for the federal government.

"They could be Black, and they could be white, they could be Hispanic," Sherrod said. "And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people .... God helped me to see that it's not just about Black people, it's about poor people."

The Gazette Editorial Board


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