While Americans as a whole enjoy a higher rate of home ownership than ever, the rate for African Americans continues to lag 20 percent below the national average, according to a report that identifies racial discrimination, predatory lending practices and a lack of affordable housing as root causes.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Home Builders collaborated on the report, “Building on a Dream,” which is available online.

While the national home-ownership rate has enjoyed decades of growth and now stands at roughly 69 percent, the rate for African Americans is just under 50 percent. The 20.5 percent gap between the home-ownership rate for blacks and the national average remains virtually unchanged since 1950, when it stood at 19.5 percent.

The report identifies barriers to home ownership for blacks and other minorities in two categories: racial discrimination and a shortage of affordable housing.

Although white Americans are more willing to live in racially diverse neighborhoods than they were in the 1970s, patterns of racial segregation remain.

“Past federal regulations, such as government-sanctioned ‘redlining,’ and the use of restrictive covenants and outright discrimination in the private sector, made it unnecessarily difficult for minorities to buy a home,” the report notes. “Had those practices not been in place in decades past, there would be more minority homeowners today.”

Those disparities are perpetuated today by continued racial discrimination in the housing search process, home financing and restrictions on the construction of new affordable housing, the report concluded.

When looking for a house or apartment, African American home buyers are steered away from predominantly white neighborhoods by real estate agents, the report said. Citing a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study that documented an increase in the practice from 1989 to 2000, the report said blacks are “told about fewer neighborhoods overall, are recommended, shown and told about homes in less predominantly white neighborhoods, and (are told) favorable things about less affluent neighborhoods.”

Subprime lenders make 53 percent of their refinance loans in neighborhoods where African Americans make up more than 80 percent of the population, and blacks and Hispanics are two to three times more likely to be turned down for a mortgage loan, studies show. Minorities are more likely to pay higher interest rates.

Predatory lenders take advantage of some minority borrowers’ lack of understanding of loan rates, the report said, but higher interest rates are not always the product of intentional discrimination. A lack of lending, bank outreach and “possible skepticism of larger financial institutions” about serving minority communities also result in higher interest rates.

Although a dearth of affordable housing is a growing problem in many areas, the issue is even more pronounced for minorities, the report said.

At $30,134, the median income of African-American households in 2004 was $14,000 below the national median of $44,389. The median income of Hispanic families was $34,241. One in five black families spent more than half their income on housing in 2003 — twice as many as white families.

Local land-use policies that restrict the amount of land available for housing or make it more expensive to build restrict opportunities for affordable housing, the report found. Large-lot zoning and “massive agricultural preserves” drive up the cost of land and housing, and “Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) regulations are often used to thwart production of affordable housing intended to serve minority households,” the report said.

“Many communities pass laws and regulations and create complex and lengthy development approval processes unaware of the negative impact they have on housing affordability,” the report said. “During any visit to a local government public hearing, one typically hears discussion about the negative effects of overcrowding, traffic congestion, the loss of open space and deterioration of the aesthetic environment. These are all valid concerns, and most communities have elaborate planning guidelines and documents that support regulation to achieve a favorable result in their community concerning these issues.”

However, the report concluded that many communities ignore state guidelines that call for a mix of housing types in a broad range of prices, and that would make them more racially and economically diverse.

“Ironically, local regulations often do not consider these requirements and actually make it more difficult or impossible to build a mix of housing types in different price ranges. This is an enormous ‘disconnect’ at the local policymaking level that, in its aggregate, can lead to a serious regional problem. This disconnect is most evident when local jurisdictions adopt ordinances, withhold building permits, or deny development approvals for housing at the lower end of the economic price spectrum.”

The report’s recommendations include increased federal, state and local enforcement of fair housing laws intended to prevent minorities from being priced out of the housing market, and encouraging local planning boards to allow a range of housing types.

The report also calls for increased funding for federal housing programs — such as HOME, Section 8 rental assistance vouchers and Community Development Block Grants — and maintaining existing tax credits including as mortgage interest-rate deductions and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

To prevent predatory lending, the report recommends that the government and private industry develop and provide comprehensive home buyer education programs, while stepping up enforcement of anti-predatory lending regulations.

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