Greater Equality is a Must in Reviving the Economy

Two weeks ago I joined thousands of advocates, researchers, and community leaders from throughout the country at the Equity Summit in Detroit, hosted by PolicyLink, to talk equity strategy. The atmosphere was electric and hopeful—a seemingly rare emotion for those of us mired in daily battles against foreclosure and attacks on homeownership. Angela Glover Blackwell delivered a compelling case that if we aim to be an economically vibrant nation once again, recovery must be fueled by equal opportunities to participate in our economy. As stated in a PolicyLink report delivered at the Equity Summit, “The more we invest in each other, the better off we will all be.”

This theme continued during my panel, “The Future of Housing,” with Dawn Phillips of Causa Justa/Just Cause and Geoff Anderson of Smart Growth America and moderated by Xavier de Souza Briggs of MIT. From the attack on immigrants who rent mobile homes in Alabama to pressure from ideologues to mandate a wealth standard for would-be homeowners, the assault on housing rights is peaking across the country. Racial and economic inequity in housing has real consequences for families, communities, and regions. Wall Street investors’ insatiable appetite for risk and exorbitant profits drove a housing bubble that was fueled by unfair and deceptive lending practices — many of which are now illegal thanks to Dodd-Frank. As a result, six million families have lost their homes to foreclosure, devastating neighborhoods and depressing local property values. New research shows that our neighborhoods became increasingly segregated in the last ten years, which among a range of negative consequences for communities of color also leads to inequities in health.

Adopting a more equitable housing policy goes beyond a moral imperative. It is critical to our economic success. Homes will continue to be the largest asset that most families own. The evidence clearly shows that when families receive sound advice and a responsible loan, they build equity that can become the foundation for retirement or a child’s education. Not all families can or want to own, so a balanced housing policy must also provide affordable rental opportunities near good schools and quality jobs. These are tangible goals that are within our reach. Our panel offered recommendations on how we can get there. Here are four highlights:

  • Organize! Inspired by the “We are the 99%” movement, overlooked and underserved communities across the country are organizing to keep their homes and demand corporations and elected officials to stop wrongful foreclosures and invest in quality jobs. Check out Causa Justa and City Life for two amazing organizing operations.
  • Incorporate equity goals in regional development. Innovative approaches to infrastructure and community development that integrates equitable affordable housing, public transportation, and job creation goals from the outset can leverage community benefits without requiring new public funding.
  • Support the National Housing Trust Fund. The National Housing Trust Fund would create a dedicated source of funding for permanently affordable rental homes for our nation’s most vulnerable families by restructuring the mortgage interest tax deduction (which disproportionately favors affluent homeowners).
  • Defend responsible homeownership opportunities. Homeownership is about building a nest egg for the future, not a get-rich-quick scheme. We must develop an inclusive housing finance system that provides families a real shot at a responsible mortgage, even if they were not fortunate enough to inherit wealth from their parents.

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Janis Bowdler
Janis Bowdler is president of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Bowdler joined JPMorgan Chase in 2013, before which she served as director of economic policy at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR, now UnidosUS). Bowdler also served as a project manager at Famicos Foundation, a community development corporation working in the Hough and Glenville neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio.

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