This is Part two of our three part series. Read Part One here
“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Last week The Shadow League posed a question of the President of the United States that any conscientious press organization should be asking. A question regarding how the policies of Barack Obama's administration have affected the lives of Black Americans since he was elected in 2008.
Mr. Obama’s policies will be juxtaposed against the current state of the Black community via statistics that are reflective of factors in education, law enforcement & corrections, housing, poverty, civil rights, health care and employment.
In the first installment the focus was on education, law enforcement and corrections. Today we will examine Obama initiatives and their effect in regards to housing (home ownership, homelessness) and poverty.
So with the legacy of the freedom fighters who bled for my ancestors fueling me, and the duty provided to me by the First Amendment of the Constitution as a conscientious member of the press, I continue with our second installment in our three-part Bro-Bama series.
Seeking suitable shelter has been a top priority for African Americans since before the Emancipation Proclamation. From runaway slaves, to railroad agreements that eroded once promising Black enclaves to the Great Northern Migration, discriminatory housing practices and other laws that hoarded low income Blacks into the slums and projects, Blacks in America have always been presented with far fewer suitable housing options than their Euro-American counterparts. Today this quandary is more obscene than ever. Nearly half (45 percent) of all poor Black children live in communities that are resource-starved compared to only 12 percent of poor White children.
Additionally, according to the United States Census of 2012, only 33 percent of African Americans own the home they live in compared to 64 percent of other races. Also, only 36 percent of other households rent their homes while African Americans rent 67 percent of the dwellings they reside in.
The costs for maintaining said households is often more than the recommended marker of 30 percent of household income for 44 percent of Black residents compared to 34 percent for Whites. Also, homes owned by Black people were worth $50,000 less on average.
As has been so readily hammered into the minds of many Americans, home ownership is a grand part of the “American dream." Semantics aside, home ownership can serve as an invaluable asset, a source of income via escrow or provide rental income and can also serve as a possible inheritance as well.
In her 2012 article in Forbes magazine titled How Home Ownership Keeps Blacks Poorer Than Whites, Emory University Law School professor of tax law Dorothy Brown writes:
Research shows that the value of homes in majority black neighborhoods do not appreciate as much as homes in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods. This appreciation gap begins whenever a neighborhood is more than 10% black, and it increases right along with the percentage of black homeowners. Yet most blacks decide to live in majority minority neighborhoods, while most whites live in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods.
If you think this is about class and not race, you are wrong. A 2001 Brookings Institution study showed that “wealthy minority neighborhoods had less home value per dollar of income than wealthy white neighborhoods.” The same study concluded that “poor white neighborhoods had more home value per income than poor minority neighborhoods.”
Professor Brown is alluding to is the manner in which racism permeates the home buying experience for the vast majority of Black people, regardless of the buyers being rich or poor. The only discernible correlation in the decrease in value for Black-owned homes is that they’re owned by Black people living in predominately Black communities.
Additionally, Whites who live in Black neighborhoods, be they working class, middle class or wealthy, will also find the value of their homes are depreciated simply because the neighborhood they reside in is Black.
That’s not even mentioning the hit Black homeowners took during the house crisis. Prince George’s County, Maryland, widely recognized as one of the more affluent Black enclaves in the country, suffered a severe blow when the subprime mortgages that many believed were a great short term remedy to get them into the house of their dreams turned sour.
Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Countrywide and several other financial institutions faced lawsuits worth billions over their practices. As was reported by Reuters in 2010 and has since become common knowledge, predatory loans aimed at racially segregated communities were instrumental in hastening the pace of the crash of America’s housing market.
Of course, one can’t blame Barack Obama for a lending trend that started in the 90's, but he is a second-term president so...
I could go on and on about the racist barriers to Black home ownership but instead I present a few things that President Barack Obama has done that ultimately may, and that's a big MAY, benefit Black homeowners in a positive manner.
The White House housing fact sheet claims the Obama administration’s policies have helped making home ownership more accessible and sustainable by crowing about the following statistics as recently as January:
*FHA is reducing annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums by 0.5 percentage point from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent, an average savings of $900 annually for new borrowers.
*Lowered premiums will help more than 800,000 homeowners save on their monthly mortgage costs and enable up to 250,000 new homebuyers to purchase a home.
* Today, the housing market continues to strengthen: house prices are up nearly 30 percent from crisis lows; 10 million fewer borrowers are underwater with homes worth less than their mortgages; and new foreclosures are at a 9-year low.
Among the other housing talking points on the fact sheet are claims that new provisions are in place to prohibit lenders from paying bonuses for getting borrowers in more expensive homes (an accelerator to the subprime crisis for minorities) and rules to ensure borrowers understand their loans, (but nothing on the wide spread forgery and misrepresentation committed by some lenders). In addition, the fact sheet applauded the increase of home prices for 32 months straight as of January, a 50 percent increase in single family homes and a decrease in the total number of mortgages more than 90 days overdue.
That sounds dandy.
No, it really does. But $900 annually amounts to around $75 a month on mortgages that average over a $1000 monthly. Respectfully, that ain't (expletive).
The manner in which the federal government has been complicit in the deterioration of the inner city since the 1930's leads this writer to believe far more resources are needed to directly target the problems unique to Black homeowners and majority Black communities. Perhaps business and mortgage loans for low income minorities willing to live and open businesses in neighborhoods suffering from urban blight with below market average APRs; just a suggestion. If you’re gonna throw money at problem you might as well throw it in a place that will do some good. Increased ownership means more tax revenue for local municipalities which then lead to better services for the community i.e. schools, parks, public transportation, etc.
I wouldn’t consider these handouts in the least. More like the government making a concerted effort to make right the glaring, institutionalized racism which they and their proxies have been using in an effort to divest from Black communities over the past 85 years. The absence of such aggressive and minority-favorable lending practices backed by the federal government means blighted neighborhoods will only be reborn and rehabilitated when Whites, and the LGBT community in some instances, decide to return to said areas via gentrification, and Black and Brown people will continue to be marginalized in their own communities. This has been happening in New York, particularly in Brooklyn and Alphabet City.
When this occurs, those who are renting in those neighborhoods will be forced to move when the property value increases and the landlords begin raising rents, thus exacerbating the move to even poorer rental properties and housing projects for the foreseeable future.
People are far less likely to take pride in neighborhoods they don’t own a piece of. That’s why many hoods are as they are. Not rocket science at all; pure common sense.
From the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of 1935 to the redlining and reverse redlining practices in the Jim Crow era through the Civil Rights Movement era, to using the GI Bill to discriminate against Blacks, to numerous other overt and covert measures designed to keep Blacks in their so-called place and away from Whites, the United States government owes the Black community big time.
As the leader of the United States, that responsibility currently falls on Barack Obama.
This isn’t welfare, a handout or some other conservative catchphrase used to shame Blacks. This is justice. Real, tenable justice. These recent measures are a drop in the ocean relative to what’s needed to make a difference within the lifetime of the children of Generation X.
The newly-adopted Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is a new HUD provision requiring local municipalities that use federal housing funds to show their efforts in reducing segregation and increasing housing choices to show the results of their efforts and progress in doing so. In the past, only overtly racist practices would incur scrutiny from the FHA. Now the Obama administration has presented a tool by which even policies that are racist in result only can be reassessed.
“In some places, effective strategies might involve preserving affordable housing in a gentrifying urban area where market pressures are squeezing out lower-income minority residents; in others, it might involve breaking down exclusionary barriers that prevent the construction of affordable housing in wealthier suburban areas,” writes Solomon Greene and Erika C. Poethig of the Urban Institute, who contributed to the development of the rule when they worked at HUD.
So basically, and please forgive me if I’m oversimplifying, the AFFH is a provision that’s designed to close vague loopholes through which institutional racism persists in the housing market. But racism, being what it is, will always find a way to manifest itself; I’m just wondering when the federal government will take that into account. Funny thing, the AFFH is taking advantage of a portion of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that had gone largely unenforced since its inception. Another Band-Aid to the hull of torpedoed ship? I hope not, but I kinda think so. Nothing in the history of this country leads me to believe otherwise.
The National Housing Act of 1934, The Housing Act of 1937, The Fair Housing Act 1968 and The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 were each supposedly designed to help end discriminatory housing practices, yet here we are. Black veterans were almost shut out of the GI Bill of 1944, which was instrumental in creating the suburban bliss Whites enjoyed through the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. Another failed attempt at ending these practices that keep Black families living in substandard conditions will not be applauded by me.
There have been eight pieces of legislation supposedly designed to prevent housing discrimination and redlining since 1934. Each has only made the problems worse than they were. So forgive me for not being very upbeat about any more housing laws designed to end racism and redlining. The tools of an angel will do an angel’s work while in his hands, but in the hands of a devil they will do as the devil commands.
Back in 2010 the Obama Administration vowed to end homelessness among children and families in America by 2020, and among veterans in five years via his Opening Doors: Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. It is the first national plan of its kind.
A lofty goal, one that requires a $1 billion funding for implementation.
Under the plan, the current administration would direct 4,000 Section 8 vouchers to homeless people who need treatment from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration along with employment, child care and employment services via Medicaid and TANF.
As of July of this year, homelessness among veterans has been reduced by 33 percent, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
However, according to Politifact, while the 33 percent claim is supported by the available data, that data is open to speculation as well.
Overall, 34 states saw a decrease in overall homelessness while 17 states saw an increase of 17 percent between 2013 and 2014. The 2.3 percent decrease in homeless on a national level is welcome but seems a far cry from the claim of ending poverty by 2020 that was made five years ago by the Obama administration.
But positives for the general population always seem to skirt around Black people. In 2010 CNN reported that Black families make up 38.8 percent of the population in homeless shelters. 40 percent of the homeless population is made up of Americans of African descent.
This has likely eased incrementally since the economy has recovered from the Great Recession but there are no recent numbers to support that.
As recently as February 2014 the Washington Post lamented that President Barack Obama has been “understated in his response to poverty” after the White House released a three-paragraph statement via email on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
That statement claimed only 1 in 7 seniors live in poverty thanks to Social Security (something he had nothing to do with), that all seniors had health insurance thanks to Medicare (another thing he had nothing to do with) and mentioned pro-work and pro-family programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit “kept millions from falling into poverty” during the Great Recession.
But nothing about HIS policies to alleviate poverty. He mentions Americans of “all races” but we would be derelict in not mentioning poverty affects African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans more than all others. Black people in particular are more likely to live a life below the poverty line than any other group.
His stated desire to create “more chances for folks to earn their way into the middle class” seemed like a smack to Black families locked into generational poverty by years of institutionalized racism affecting their abilities to find proper housing, proper health care, proper education and suitable employment; all of which are markers for whether or not an individual will be born in, pull themselves out of, or die in poverty.
“As long as they’re willing to work for it” sounds a lot like the pull yourself up by the bootstraps baloney we often hear from the right.
His 2009 stimulus plan relieved the burden on millions of impoverished Americans by increasing food stamps, prolonging unemployment benefits and the earned-income tax credit.
However, many have argue that Obama, then enjoying (if you can call it that) the benefits of having a predominately Democratic House and Senate when he rode into office in 2008, should have asked for more. The current minimum wage of $7.25 is a travesty that isn’t going to be remedied anytime soon. He has proposed a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016 but Republicans aren’t letting that happen without a fight. Also, the number of working poor in America hasn’t had a great deal of movement since 1970.
Median wealth for White households dipped 16 percent between 2005 and 2009, the dark days of the Great Recession. For Black folks that number was 53 percent. That didn’t require any special attention from a President who claimed to know our pain? Well, apparently not.
So we’ve found that despite advances by the overall American populous as far as poverty earmarks are concerned (home ownership is up, employment is up, education statistics are up and crime is down nationwide), Blacks are still more likely to be poor than ever. But the President still talks in code speak to shame his Black constituents with language that sounds more like it came from Ronald Reagan than Barack Obama.
Another marker of poverty is the lack of two-parent households amid homes in Black communities. However, what many politicians don’t say when “sonning” Black people is the dearth of men in poor Black households has a great deal to do with the manner in which the war on poverty penalized two-parent households, doing so by greatly reducing or completely eliminating assistance to homes with in home Dads. Additionally, as was mentioned in part one of our study, the War on Drugs has ostensibly been a war on Black and Brown men from the very beginning.
Yet, our culture and lack of self-control is to blame?
One wonders how these people sleep at night.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation was quoted as saying the following in the conservative Western Center for Journalism as saying:
“The War on Poverty crippled marriage in low-income communities. As means-tested benefits were expanded, welfare began to serve as a substitute for a husband in the home, eroding marriage among lower-income Americans. In addition, the welfare system actively penalized low-income couples who did marry by eliminating or substantially reducing benefits.
“As husbands left the home, the need for more welfare to support single mothers increased. The War on Poverty created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which generated the need for more welfare.”
Now it’s rare that I agree with the right, but as someone intimately familiar with these circumstances I am inclined to agree with Mr. Rector’s statement. Not his entire thesis, but his statement.
I think I speak for many when I say Black people don’t want any more TANF, anymore Section 8 or any other short-term solutions to poverty that create greater dependency on an unreliable federal government but don’t address the systemic root causes. Once that’s done THEN they can talk that bootstrap crap because it would be much more apropos.
As of February of this year, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics reported the national unemployment rate as being at 5.5 percent. However, the rate was at 10.4 percent among African Americans. Yes, Barack Obama has added over 5.9 million jobs to the U.S. economy since his election, but he’s basically filling in the hole made by George W. Bush, who only created 3 million jobs during his eight year tenure but the nation lost 462,000 private sector jobs.
Though he's blowing Bush of the water on employment very few of Obama’s newly created jobs are actually going to Black folks. Additionally, Black unemployment was considerably lower under GWB but began trailing upward under Obama, who took office as the recession was just getting its sea legs. But it continued going up well after the Great Recession was officially declared over.
In our third and final installment of the of our Bro-Bama series The Shadow League will look at how Obama's policies, or lack thereof, affect Black people in America in areas of civil rights and health care.