By Jeffrey W. Hicks
A half-century ago, the Fair Housing Act was enacted to prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, creed and national origin. The law also supported the National Association of Real Estate Brokers’ (NAREB) efforts to increase black homeownership, which we believe serves to increase wealth and other economic outcomes for black Americans. We have since experienced highs and lows in the journey towards economic empowerment and black homeownership. While sometimes challenged, we are not discouraged and we have learned vital lessons along the way.
NAREB has advocated for African Americans to own their homes since 1947 and we are proud to play a leadership role in that struggle, but this is not a solitary endeavor. We must grow a “Community of Concern” by partnering and actively involving civil and human rights organizations, community-based and social service organizations, business groups and the faith-based community (our oldest and most trusted). We must collaborate to create strong, viable communities that help to stabilize black America through homeownership.
In 1970, two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, black homeownership was at 41.6 percent. It reached its height in 2004 at 49 percent. Today, it stands at 42.1 percent, almost the same as nearly 50 years ago. The economic downturn of a decade ago hurt many African American homeowners with high foreclosures, upside-down mortgages and financial upheaval from which many are still struggling to recover.
Today economic segregation remains a problem. Urban centers, long the home of black America, are being gentrified. Many with deep community roots are being forced out by rising taxes and skyrocketing housing values.
While obvious obstacles like Jim Crow segregation no longer exist, we still face formidable (and often covert) obstacles to owning homes like unfair mortgage lending practices, credit scoring, which is based not on how diligently we pay our bills, but on how much consumer debt we can amass. Crippling student debt also impacts black Americans deeply.
Despite these challenges we know that wealth can be built through education, financial literacy and creating and growing our community of concern to support homeownership. This is how black America educates its children and how we set up businesses, i.e., by using equity from our homes to invest in ourselves, our families and our futures.
We stand on the shoulders of NAREB founders and visionaries like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke to the association in 1967 about the need for “middle-class Negroes to…publicly identify with the problem of poverty which engulfs the life of the masses.”
NAREB’s motto is “Democracy in Housing,” and we will continue to fight for that. We must continue to be vigilant. We must continue to educate, encourage and do everything we can to empower black America to build wealth and stability and to invest in our futures through that most fundamental part of the American Dream: homeownership.
Jeffrey W. Hicks is the 30th president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.