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Talk focuses on ways to keep Columbia's ideal of fair housing alive

September 29, 2016
Sustaining racial integration in housing requires constant stewardship, even in a planned community built on diversity.
     That's the theme of a talk being given Tuesday by the head of an Illinois fair-housing organization to Howard County leaders and residents who seek to preserve Columbia's legacy of inclusiveness.
     Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, will also offer insight into the operations of the nonprofit, which has a 44-year history of maintaining racial integration in communities west of Chicago.
     "There is caring and concern in Columbia about remaining true to its core values," said Breymaier, who has headed the nonprofit for 10 years. "'What do we need to put in place to keep the dream alive?' That's the question people want answered."

HUD Fair Housing Rule Grants: Not Everybody Wants Some

September 28, 2016
In July 2015, HUD published the finalized Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule in the Federal Register with the goal of providing participants in HUD programs with clear guidelines and data they need to achieve the goals outlined in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
     While the final rule was widely praised and viewed as a great achievement for the Obama Administration, not everyone is excited about it. Four communities have recently decided that they no longer want to receive HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds associated with the AFFH Rule: Castle Rock, Colorado; Douglas County, Colorado; Sedgwick County, Kansas; and Wayne Township, New Jersey, which announced on September 7 that it would not accept the funds.

What Texas Ruling Means for Fair Housing

September 09, 2016
Fair housing advocates scored a major victory in 2015 when the Supreme Court upheld the so-called “disparate impact” standard, a legal theory that says individuals can allege housing discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act without having to prove that someone intentionally sought to discriminate. The Inclusive Communities Project (ICP), a Dallas-based nonprofit, had argued in court that the Texas Department of Housing awarded its low-income housing tax credits in a way that perpetuated segregation, concentrating affordable housing in black neighborhoods with high poverty.

For 45 years, fair housing activist Lee Porter has led North Jersey agency fighting discrimination

July 04, 2016
The stacks of boxes that fill Lee Porter’s office in Hackensack are just a small sampling of a storied 50-year career combating housing discrimination in North Jersey and beyond.
     Porter, who has served as the executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey for 45 years, didn’t plan to lead the non-profit corporation for so long when she began to volunteer there in 1965. But somehow, she said, the years went by and the work never finished. She is now 89 years old, a grandmother of four who drives to the Main Street office every day, she said, because there is still more work to do.
     “I almost feel like a failure,” she said as she sat at a conference table in her office where the walls are lined with awards bestowed on her through the years. “Twenty years ago, I used to tell the United Way that we are the only organization that you fund whose ultimate goal is to go out of business, and we do that when equal opportunity in housing becomes a reality. That hasn’t happened yet.”
     Housing advocates and Bergen County residents who have worked with Porter say she has been an influential figure in lobbying and receiving more funding nationally for fair housing, for bringing landmark discrimination cases to court, and for simply helping people move to where they want to live.

As HUD complaint lingers, Whitehall zoning change would make way for affordable housing

May 30, 2016
n the shadow of a fair housing discrimination complaint, Whitehall Township is poised to expand affordable housing options, a move housing advocates say will make for a healthier community.
     A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that widened the potential prospects of fair housing discrimination and new directions from the federal government have Lehigh Valley Planning Commission leaders encouraging municipalities to examine zoning codes to guard against unintentionally screening out protected classes. And while the LVPC praised Whitehall's newest zoning change, it appears the township's motivation for the amendment has a more specific aim.

OPINION: HUD choice in best interest of Latinos

January 09, 2009
President-elect Barack Obama announced his pick for secretary of Housing and Urban Development last month in a very low-key way — via e-mail at 6 a.m. Although Obama later mentioned his choice of Shaun Donovan for HUD in his radio address, it was a quiet rollout. Other Cabinet appointees have been presented at televised news conferences.
     I wonder whether Obama was trying to deflect criticism from advocacy groups that wanted the position to go to a Latino. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had submitted a "wish list" of potential nominees. For HUD, it suggested Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión or Saul Ramirez, a former HUD deputy secretary.
     But there are instances where the needs of Latinos and the agendas of our lobbying groups diverge — and this is one of them. With the Hispanic community hit hard by the mortgage and foreclosure crisis, Donovan is the best candidate for HUD. He is a Harvard-educated architect whose résumé includes the private and non-profit sectors. He's overseeing New York City's $7.5 billion plan for affordable housing, the largest in the nation.

The predators' ball

August 09, 2008
Roy Barnes is a self-described "small-town" lawyer with a mane of silver hair and an Andy Griffith drawl. But like Griffith's Ben Matlock, the TV character he resembles, Barnes is the furthest thing from a rube. He comes from a family of bankers, and back in the '90s Barnes saw, far before many in Washington, what was happening as deregulation took lending further away from the local banks and gave it to mortgage brokers and Wall Street. So when Barnes was elected governor of Georgia in 1998, he decided to push through the toughest antipredatory lending law in the country. The 2002 law made everyone up the line, including investment banks on distant Wall Street and rating agencies like Standard & Poor's, legally liable if the loans they sold, securitized or rated were deemed unfair. "There has to be accountability," Barnes told NEWSWEEK. "In the end you have to be able to say, do I really want to make this loan? Because I may have to eat it." "A victory for Georgia consumers," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the new law, which was also hailed by AARP and the NAACP.
     It was when Roy Barnes started talking about accountability that the Feds began marching into Georgia. Barnes found himself besieged by lobbyists from major banks and national regulators—as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage issuers whose mandate is to help people obtain affordable homes at fair prices; today, Fannie and Freddie are so financially fragile that the government has agreed to bail them out if necessary.

Countrywide in crosshairs as mortgage crisis fuels litigation

February 22, 2008
Sandor Samuels has, quite possibly, the least enviable in-house legal job right now in corporate America. As general counsel and litigation chief of embattled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., he's facing huge lawsuits on all fronts. Everyone from disgruntled investors and shareholders to mortgage customers and government regulators is taking Countrywide to court in a wave of suits that will probably be the litigation story for the next couple of years.
     At least Samuels, one of 20 Fortune 250 GCs who also serve as litigation chiefs, won't have to face it alone. In January, Bank of America Corp. made a $4 billion buyout offer for Countrywide, which could be a much-needed lifeline for the country's largest home lender. How the acquisition will affect Samuels' in-house litigation team was unclear at press time; he and other Countrywide executives declined to comment for this story.
     Still, the litigation could be a painful headache for Bank of America's David Onorato, another one of the Fortune 250 litigation bosses on our chart. The Charlotte-based bank will not only assume Countrywide's financial woes when the deal goes through later this year, but it will also take on the swelling number of suits against the Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide that began when the subprime mortgage market collapsed last year. Meanwhile, Bank of America faces its own lawsuits related to the subprime meltdown, and individual shareholders filed at least three class action suits against the bank in January challenging the purchase of Countrywide.

What's behind Realtor.com's list of taboo words?

November 23, 2007
EDITOR'S NOTE: By excerpting this story, The National Fair Housing Advocate Online does not endorse Realtor.com's "taboo words" list or agree that all the words present a potential Fair Housing Act violation. Rather, the list seems more likely to confuse real estate professionals about discriminatory advertising. Similarly, the About.com real estate columnist, Elizabeth Weintraub, is also in error in many of her recommendations about discriminatory advertising.
     What do "vampire," "Guatemala," "druidism," "cyberhomes," "orgy," "Gandhi," "agnostic," "tenant" and "wee wee" have in common? They all fall into the vast category of verboten vocabulary that Realtor.com prohibits in its listings. Elaborating on those lovely Guatemalan woodcarvings? Gushing over a cutting-edge cyberhome? Mentioning that the apartment already has long-term tenants?
     Better rethink that thought. It all could be fodder for a fair-housing law suit.
     Of course, fair housing laws were not written to protect against such innocuous marketing, but rather to discourage the long-standing practices of refusing, dissuading and deceiving certain groups so that they won't occupy a given house, condo complex or neighborhood.

OPINION: How Segmented Financial Markets in the U.S. Are Contributing to the Current Subprime Meltdown

November 02, 2007
Divisions in the U.S. based on ethnic lines remain a guarded secret from the rest of the world. As a result, conspicuously absent from analyses of the subprime meltdown by international organizations and media was any mention of color or ethnicity. But, it is well-known in the U.S. that the market for financial services, and for credit in particular, is segmented along lines of color. Studies by the Center for Responsible Lending, ACORN, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development all confirm that subprime lending is disproportionately concentrated on African American and Latino homeowners. These studies also show that subprime lending is highly concentrated in minority neighborhoods (both urban and suburban). In fact, higher-income African American and Latino borrowers are more likely to receive subprime loans than lower-income white borrowers. Commonly, subprime lending is defined as lending to people with impaired credit history. But this is a flawed definition; subprime lending is better defined as high-cost lending—loans that are more costly than prime credit. It is the segmented nature of the credit market which forces borrowers with equivalent credit histories as prime borrowers to settle for more expensive credit. A study by Freddie Mac estimated that 15 percent to 35 percent of subprime borrowers had high enough credit scores to qualify for prime credit; yet they ended up with subprime loans. It remains a fact that certain neighborhoods are not served at all or underserved by mainstream financial institutions, leaving a gap to be filled by alternative lenders that take advantage of the situation.

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