Five decades after the Fair Housing Act, people of color are still denied access to homeownership

Most Americans think of racism as limited to interactions between people—in which one person targets another because of the color of their skin. Every once and a while, folks will also admit that racial hate groups exist, though there is widespread denial about how many of them are actually out there. But, collectively, we still can’t seem to wrap our heads around how institutions, policies and processes create and perpetuate structures that disenfranchise people of color. Yet, they are everywhere—and they often serve to prevent people of color from economic advancement. 

A recent analysis by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Journalism found that despite laws to ban racial discrimination in housing loans, blacks and Latinos are still denied mortgage loans much more often than whites. 

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

There are so many reasons about why this is problematic and deeply disturbing, so it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start with this: home ownership in the United States is directly tied to economic opportunity and wealth. Those who qualify for mortgage loans become eligible for borrowing more money over time as the equity in their home grows. That wealth gets passed down through generations. And we can see a clear pattern between the net worth of individuals who are homeowners and those who are not. As Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance says, “For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity.”