By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
What is important to 45 million Black Americans today should be important to all Americans. Yet, as the economy in the United States continues to gradually recover from very a difficult and complex set of economic woes, the recovery of economic well-being of Black America continues to lag behind.
One critical measurement of economic viability and stability is the status of homeownership. Sustainable wealth in the U.S. is often measured in part by homeownership. Over the past five years, I have been engaging in a dialogue with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) about homeownership in Black America.
NAREB, founded in 1947, is our nation’s oldest and largest minority real estate association. It was established precisely to secure the right to equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed or color. We all are aware, however, that there still remains a present-day reality of systematic racial discrimination in America when it comes to equal and fair housing issues.
There is more need for a professional trade organization such as NAREB today than in the 1940s. Black wealth in the U.S. in losing ground at a time when there should be advances and increases in Black American homeownership. According to Nielsen’s latest research on consumerism within Black America, we spend in excess of $1.2 trillion annually. With that kind of spending power, why should there be a decline in Black American homeownership?
The issue is not about having the money to purchase a home. The real issue here is a persistent and deliberate pattern of racial discrimination in the housing marketplace. Since the enactment of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it has been illegal to discriminate in the U.S. housing market on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or family status.
The National Fair Housing Alliance recently filed a federal complaint against one of the leading national real estate companies, RE/MAX Alliance/Lee Garland and Rita Jensen Team, located in Jackson, Miss. After months of investigations, the National Fair Housing Alliance documented racial discrimination against Black Americans seeking homeownership.
But that kind of racism was not limited to the deep South. The National Fair Housing Alliance also found racial discrimination prevented Black American homeownership in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas and in Illinois. It is a national problem that requires a national solution.
According to Princeton University scholars Douglas Massey and Jonathan Tannen, racial discrimination in housing leads to the perpetuation of “hypersegregation” that sustains “high levels of social isolation from mainstream society, but also high concentration of poverty and disadvantage.” An effective strategy, therefore, to overcome poverty in Black America is to increase homeownership and to transform and to prevent racial hypersegregation.
In speaking to NAREB’s President Ron Cooper about a “solution” to help Black America to regain and to retain its wealth, it was important to know that NAREB announced at this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference that it is committed to a national goal of “Two million new Black American homeownerships over the next five years.” Attaining this goal would go a long way toward increasing Black wealth and helping to overcome poverty in our communities.
Achieving NAREB’s goal of increasing Black American homeownership across the nation will require a dedicated effort and coalition building to ensure greater access to mortgage capital, down payment assistance, increased housing inventory, and investment inclusion. We all should strive to support this effort also by raising public awareness about this important national campaign: “Black Homeownership Matters.” Print and social media should use the hashtag: #BlackHomeownershipMatters.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.