During the opening ceremonies for Fair Housing Month earlier in April, Lee Porter said, “Fair housing is fair living.” That rings true as fair housing applies to all facets of home buying and selling from showings to lending to appraisals.
After being denied housing in 1965, Porter began volunteering for the Fair Housing Council of Bergen County in New Jersey, eventually devoting her career to the cause as executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey. She’s affectionately known as the “Mother of Fair Housing.”
Porter’s passion for the topic is reflected in many government and non-government organizations nationwide that are committed to eliminating discrimination in housing transactions. In its 55th year, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, and familial status.
However, discrimination is still faced by home buyers and sellers today. President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) Lisa Rice states, “Sadly, a failure to fully enforce this law over the past 55 years has allowed racial disparities in homeownership and credit access to prevail and residential segregation to worsen. In fact, our neighborhoods are more segregated today than they were in 1918, and the Black/white and Latino/white homeownership gaps are as large as they were when redlining was legal.
“Although we have made some important strides as a society since 1968, we clearly still have a long way to go in fully dismantling the systems that continue to perpetuate inequity based on race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, and sexual orientation.”
Fair Housing and Affordability
According to data from Realtor.com, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) buyers are more likely to place smaller down payments on a home, with 65% putting down 20% or less of a home’s purchase price compared with 53% of white, non-LGBTQ+ buyers.
Of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC buyers, 85% paid over a home’s asking price to get an offer accepted, while 79% of white and non-LGBTQ+ individuals reported paying over asking, data shows. Smaller down payments coupled with above-asking home prices often result in higher interest rates and larger monthly payments. This can mean a larger share of income goes toward housing, which is concerning as a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC home buyers were also more likely to fall into lower income groups than white and non-LGBTQ+ buyers.
"More Americans than ever before are stretched thin because of the growing housing cost burden, but our data shows that LGBTQ+ and BIPOC buyers are potentially spending even more of their income to own a home of their own, which can make it difficult to afford other essentials like food and transportation and creates even greater inequalities," says Laura Eddy, Realtor.com vice president, research and insights.
While some acts of discrimination are obvious, others are murky, leaving buyers or sellers questioning if they were treated fairly. Fair pricing for homes plays a large factor in this question. Thirty percent of homeowners surveyed in a KeyBank Fair Housing Month poll said they are unsure whether they had an unfair experience when buying a home or are certain they had an unfair experience.
Surveying 1,000 homeowners earning less than $75,000 annually, the results show that less than half, 47%, of homeowners who purchased their homes in the past five years felt confident that they received a fair market value price.
Additionally, 31% of respondents did not seek out information or resources on home buyer assistance programs, according to KeyBank data. This may be because of a lack of awareness or the uncertainty of home buying entirely.
"When it comes to buying a home, there are many factors to consider—the largest being, can I afford it, and will I get a fair chance," says Victor Alexander, head of Key’s Consumer Bank.
Realtor.com also found that LGBTQ+ and BIPOC buyers face challenges during the mortgage process and are 1.7 times more likely to have been denied mortgages two or more times. To assist in down payment assistance awareness, Realtor.com displays information on all home listings so that buyers can see if help is available.
"With the rising costs of homeownership taking a greater toll on budgets, resources like down payment assistance can help reduce the overall financial burden of buying a home and make it more accessible to a wider range of individuals," Eddy shares.
More (and Creative) Financing Options
Down payment assistance as well as newer means of financing and credit can ease the strain imposed on buyers. Similar to credit-building programs like Esusu that reports on-time rent payments to credit bureaus, Ready Life gives potential buyers a path to homeownership by using the Ready Pay app to pay rent and other bills on time.
Founder and CEO of Ready Life Ashley D. Bell says, “Ready Life’s mission ‘to equip communities with tools to help them advance economically and create generational wealth’ aligns with goals of the Fair Housing Act in our efforts to eliminate the inequalities that exist today. The FICO scoring system—created in 1989—was meant to serve as an objective credit scoring system, yet the system as created was inherently biased and continues to perpetuate disparities in the area of housing.
“Fair Housing Month is a great time for us to be reminded that we still have work to do; and at Ready Life we are rewriting the rules for homeownership. The existing credit scoring system isn’t working. We want to help individuals get into a home of their own based on the factors that matter. We believe that individuals are more than a three-digit credit score; and a family with a documented history of paying their rent on time will pay their mortgage in the same manner.”
The 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing Report by Habitat for Humanity International noted a 30% gap between white and Black households, the largest recorded since 1983. Working year-round with Black families to achieve first-time homeownership, Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford says, “Historic discrimination in housing policy is one of the main drivers of the racial wealth gap in the U.S. and continues to be a significant barrier for Black Americans in attaining quality education, economic and social stability, and generational wealth.
“While our work in this area is not new, our Advancing Black Homeownership initiative makes our commitment to prospective Black homeowners explicit, provides a strategy to deepen efforts, and injects millions of additional dollars into the ongoing work through our local affiliates and at the national level.”
The Push of Awareness and Initiatives
National Fairing Housing Month aims to create awareness and drive initiatives toward allowing all a fair chance at building an equitable future. For instance, Realtor.com and the Homeownership Council of America (HCA) teamed up to raise funds for the HCA’s Equity Down Payment Assistance Fund last year.
As real estate agents are often the first contact a home buyer has at the start of a housing transaction, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) advocates on national fair housing policy through its Fair Housing Committee. In 2020, the NAR passed a Fair Housing Action Plan (ACT! Initiative) to emphasize (A)ccountability, (C)ulture Change, and (T)raining to ensure Realtors are doing everything possible to protect housing rights in America.
Because home appraisals are a key component in fair housing transactions, President Joe Biden tasked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge to lead an initiative to address inequity in home valuations in 2021. Fudge, with Domestic Policy Council (DPC) director Susan Rice, established the Interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE). PAVE works as a coordinated team of 13 federal agencies to root out racial and ethic bias in home appraisals.
This month and year, the NFHA is commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act through its Advancing a Blueprint for Equity campaign. “This campaign brings together diverse voices, perspectives, and experiences to develop and promote strategies for eliminating bias and increasing equity so that all people—regardless of race, gender identity, ethnicity, family status, disability, or religion—have a range of choices about where to live, and so that all neighborhoods have the resources and amenities people need, regardless of who lives in the community,” NFHA's Rice states.
“In particular, NFHA will continue exploring solutions for addressing appraisal bias, algorithmic injustice, source of income discrimination, restrictive zoning, and the nation’s affordable housing crisis. We will also work to ensure the Fair Housing Act’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision is fully implemented. By taking these steps, we can bring this country closer to fully achieving the Fair Housing Act’s goals and promise.”