Social Issues and Homeownership for All

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Homeownership is the traditional cornerstone of the American Dream. Yet for millions of people across the nation, who may have poor credit scores and earn less than a living wage, the possibility of homeownership has long been out of reach, even before the COVID pandemic. Today, with COVID serving as yet another barrier to homeownership in the U.S., especially among minority populations, the situation has become dire.

In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that “an estimated 10 million adults are in a household that is not caught up in its mortgage payment.” Those vulnerable homeowners are at a high risk of losing their housing via bank foreclosure unless policies are enacted to protect them.

In light of this sobering fact, we must ask ourselves whether the goal of homeownership is even possible under the threat of a global pandemic and subsequent economic insecurity. Is it time to reassess the general view in society that homeownership is the pinnacle of success? To answer those and similar questions, we need to take a look at the various legal, economic, generational, and political perspectives that surround homeownership in the 21st century.

Social Justice, Public Health, and Housing

Over the years, the federal government has implemented various policies and programs designed to facilitate homeownership for all. One notable example is the American Dream Downpayment Initiative, signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2003. The initiative framed the topic of homeownership in a social justice context, and for his part, President Bush reportedly believed that homeownership could help reduce racial inequality across the country.

And various data supports the idea that housing insecurity is indeed a social justice issue. Among U.S. homeowners, minority populations are underrepresented. According to The White House archives, 74.3% of non-Hispanic whites own their own home, compared to 48% of African-Americans. These numbers are indicative of a larger, systemic problem wherein racial minorities are disproportionately devalued and oppressed.

Housing inequality is just one of the long-standing systemic health and social inequities that are affecting modern society and negatively impacting public health. Minority populations are even at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, in part due to practices in the realm of homeownership, including redlining and gentrification. In gentrified urban neighborhoods, people of color are frequently displaced, resulting in increased housing segregation and perpetuating the cycle of inequality.

The Importance of Good Credit>

While gentrification isn’t necessarily indicative of bad intentions, the practice of redlining is much less innocuous. In New York City and numerous metro areas across the country, the effects of redlining lasted for decades, persisting to this day. Redlining refers to racist housing laws of the 20th century, wherein neighborhoods with large minority populations were labeled “red.” In those red-designated areas, it was much more difficult to obtain a mortgage loan, and property values were frequently undermined.

Researchers have determined that redlining also negatively impacts homeownership rates and credit scores among residents of those “undesirable” neighborhoods. In regards to securing and maintaining equity, an individual’s credit score is of fundamental importance. A low credit score typically equates to higher interest rates or even the flat-out denial of a mortgage loan request.

Situations such as foreclosure only serve to compound the issue of housing inequality, and can significantly reduce an individual’s credit score. And make no mistake: repairing one’s credit following a foreclosure is typically an uphill battle for which there is no quick fix.

Costs Related to Home Ownership

To save on housing costs, even with less-than-perfect credit, many prospective homeowners seek creative solutions. Millennials, in particular, may opt to upgrade their existing home to better align with their personal ideals or choose to invest in a fixer-upper that’s priced to sell. But DIY housing repairs often come with their own set of challenges, including those related to personal safety.

Older properties are especially problematic, as they were likely constructed with materials that today are considered harmful. For instance, asbestos was a common construction material in the past, used in various forms between the 1940s and 1970s. Asbestos exposure poses a significant health risk and has been linked to an aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma.

Homeowners looking to renovate an older property may want to have the property checked for asbestos, mold, and other harmful substances before starting on the project. New York State homeowners may discover asbestos in various building materials and products, ranging from textured paint and vinyl floor tiles to insulation and roofing materials. Asbestos should only be removed by a licensed abatement contractor.

Key Takeaways

The question of fair and equitable homeownership is one of the most significant social justice issues of the 21st century. As we continue to adapt to a world forever changed by a pandemic, we must work to better understand the various nuances of homeownership. Further, we must promote economic policies that are designed to protect the millions of American homeowners who are under financial strain.

Beau Peters is a freelance writer based out of Portland, OR. He has a particular interest in covering workers' rights, social justice, and workplace issues and solutions. Read other articles by Beau.