The city of Portland says that one of its key housing policies is to close the racial gap in minority home ownership. Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Erik Sten have launched the Operation Home Owner and Minority Equity program, a 10-year initiative to close the home-ownership gap by putting citizens of color in about 13,000 homes.
The City Council has directed the Portland Development Commission to dedicate 30 percent of tax-increment financing revenues from all urban renewal districts to affordable housing. The City Council also asked the PDC to develop a plan to implement that goal that includes income guidelines. The recommendations are being made by Sten and the staffs of the PDC and the city's Bureau of Housing and Community Development.
That might explain why African Americans and other minority homebuyers feel like they have been discriminated against and that they have been ignored in the policy that is now making the rounds of PDC and the city. The charade continued at a Jan. 24 PDC meeting in Northeast Portland, and nothing has changed for homeownership opportunities for African Americans.
Although PDC Commissioners Sal Kadri and Bertha Ferran explained to staff members the importance of homeownership for minorities, the staff continues to ignore that desire for homeownership. African Americans and other minorities continue to face a policy that discriminates against both race and income.
The proposed housing policy smacks of Portland's long history of racial provincialism and intolerance towards people of color. Maybe PDC's new minority community liaison director should tell the PDC and the city housing policy staff that the minority community is facing racism in housing. Since all of the policies are driven by the PDC housing department, they must reflect a "can-do," not a "can't-do" attitude.
While the city rightly argues for more affordable housing, it continues to ignore African Americans and other minorities. The city's Homeownership Advisory Committee report shows that Black and Latino homebuyers experience shameful:
• Loan denial rates: Among White and Black households with like incomes, the loan denial rate is twice as high for Black applicants. At every income level, African American and Latino households are turned down for home loans more often than Portland's White residents. The housing policy ignores the fact that lower-income Whites have a better chance of getting a mortgage than upper middle-class African Americans.
• Segregated lending: A color line runs through minority census tracts in North and Northeast Portland; this is called "sub-prime lending." The city report notes that for those African Americans who do receive loans, the vast majority are originated by sub-prime higher-priced loans compared to White mortgage originations. It is no wonder that young White couples are able to buy homes in North and Northeast Portland. It isn't because African Americans and other minorities don't wish to own; the door is shut to homebuyers of color.
• Lack of city investment: The city and PDC have set a goal of putting 13,000 minorities into their own homes, but they haven't publicly recommended putting any resources into minority homeownership. Why? Although the PDC says it is committed to closing the racial gap in home ownership, less than 10 percent of the tax-increment financing investment directly supports market-rate housing or affordable homeownership as reported in the tax-increment financing set-aside report.
Over the past five years, our city has realized that historically Black communities in Portland paid an inordinately higher and unequal price for development. African Americans have paid the ultimate price: gentrification. If you want to stop the forced relocation of African Americans, help them buy home: Homeownership is the only proven tool that can combat gentrification.
PDC housing policy should delineate rental housing from homeownership. The city should keep its word and allocate greater resources dedicated to minority homeownership.
If the city and PDC mean what they say, the policy should acknowledge the racial barriers that Portland's minority community faces; it should remove the lily-white vision that is reflected in the recommended housing policy.
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