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Saundra Sorensen
Published: 03 October 2019

A state task force examining racial disparities in homeownership has sent its preliminary recommendations to House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney.

In April of last year, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill requiring the state to more closely examine the issue, and to recommend policy alternatives that would make homeownership more accessible to Oregonians of color. The resulting Joint Interim Task Force On Addressing Racial Disparities in Home Ownership has been meeting over the past year, and is comprised of two Republican and two Democrat state senators and representatives, as well as seven members from the community who reflect a wealth of professional expertise and lived experience from communities of color throughout Oregon. Last week, the committee prioritized a list of 13 preliminary recommendations, culled from more than 90 initial ideas, and submitted a list of six suggestions for consideration in the current short legislative session.

trimet celebrating diversity-Advertisement-“I am so pleased and proud of the work and commitment that all of our members put into this very difficult, and potentially polarizing, work,” task force co-chair Rep. Mark Meek (D- Clackamas County) told The Skanner. “At the end of all of our hard work and our blood, sweat and tears, we really have something that is a deliverable, that we have truly prioritized based on all of our experiences, and also prioritized in a way that we think can be effectively implemented through the short session.”

The committee submitted the following recommendations:

  • Fund outreach by culturally specific organizations to increase the visibility of and access to homeownership assistance programs by communities of color, including increasing access to culturally specific homebuyer education and counseling, down payment assistance, down payment savings credits, and individual development accounts (IDAs).

“I was on a waitlist for some time to get into those programs, so I’m not sure that outreach and access are the issue,” task force member Se-Ah-Dom Edmo, executive director of the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, told her colleagues during the Sept. 19 meeting.

“It’s money moving into the programs that may be the issue.”

  • Improve education and training required of and provided to mortgage and real estate professionals to cover homebuyer assistance programs and incorporate racial bias training.

Task force member Julie Nash, a loan consultant with loanDepot, explained that while mortgage lenders in the state of Oregon are required to complete 10 hours of ongoing education annually, there is a disparity in requirements between Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System-registered lenders and those who operate under a bank.

“Ironically the banks may have more information about the programs because of their (Community Reinvestment Act) requirements, but that doesn’t mean that across the industry, those bankers have access to the same information,” Nash told the committee.

Edmo argued that such education should include not only racial bias training, but historical data of homeownership rates and barriers in the state.

“The why of how we got here really matters, and I think for professionals either in their current positions or new to either mortgage or real estate industries, understanding what's happening right now in this particular time period has a lot to do with it,” Edmo said.

  • Have Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) provide additional financial support and technical assistance to nonprofits and culturally specific organizations to conduct outreach, tailor programs, and deliver community-specific financial literacy courses and homebuyer assistance, education, and counseling programs.

Meek said that part of the task force’s implementation process is to “use OHCS as a delivery system, as the main catalyst.”

  • Increase funding for down payment assistance and IDAs to support homeownership by people of color.
  • Set goals, reporting requirements, and program standards for OHCS specific to homeownership by people of color.

“We know that 61% of the Caucasian, non-Latino population are homeowners in Oregon,” Meek told The Skanner. “Only 31% of African American or Black Oregonians are homeowners. That’s almost a 50% disparity, and that’s just crazy. We want to target them and make sure we’re raising their numbers as quickly as possible.”

  • Convene a work group with Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes to identify homeownership needs and develop recommendations for state programs and investments to increase homeownership rates for tribal members.

The task force has assembled a list of policy options for what members hope will be phase two of their work. Meek confirmed that they had asked Kotek and Courtney to extend the duration of the task force, enabling members to revisit remaining phase one recommendations and phase two preliminary recommendations.

They will also ask for compensation for community leaders who participate in the task force outside of their normal professional duties, and to enable members to travel around the state as they develop further policy recommendations.

“My vision, my goal is to make sure that every corner of the state has secure money in order to have housing for low-income folks who want to become homeowners, regardless who they are, throughout the entire state,” co-chair Sen. James Manning (D- Eugene) told the task force during its Sept. 19 meeting.

“So this is going to have an impact on all Oregonians that want to purchase a home.

"Because we’re going to talk about barriers, we’re going to eliminate the barriers.”

The task force will next convene in November.

Footage from Joint Interim Task Force on Addressing Racial Disparities in Home Ownership meetings are available here.

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