Bush's Words Alone Not Enough to Cure Housing Ills


President Bush recently promised a black church audience that he would do more to close the gaping chasm between white and black homeownership. While some dismissed his pitch as a well-rehearsed ploy to bag more African-Americans for the GOP, the housing gap is a long-standing national problem that has only gotten worse.

Homeownership among blacks badly lags that of whites, and the Bush administration's deep slash in federal programs to repair, modernize and build public housing has only increased the racial housing gap.

L.A. is a textbook case of the imploding crisis. A 1999 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that more Angelenos than ever are being packed into fewer housing units. Nearly 250,000 households in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods in South Central L.A., East L.A. and the San Fernando Valley are overcrowded with thousands of renters in substandard apartments.

An estimated 4,000 housing units must be built annually to meet L.A.'s affordable housing shortfall, but no one in either the public or private sector has come anywhere close to getting it done.

Bush's plan won't do much to help either. It relies on a mix of tax credits to private developers and subsidies to banks to help minority homebuyers with their down payment. But this doesn't do much to induce private developers. There's far more profit in building pricey homes and condos.

Bush also was silent on the persistent problem of redlining. In annual studies on bank lending practices, Greenlining, a San Francisco public advocacy group, has consistently found that the state's biggest banks still make only a pitiable number of conventional home loans to blacks in L.A. County. This prevents thousands of blacks, even with good income and credit, from purchasing homes.

Bankers claim they don't redline and are making more loans than ever to prospective black homebuyers. If the number of loans made to blacks still pales beside those made to whites, the bankers blame it on skyrocketing housing costs, the higher credit risk of minority applicants and the dearth of information among minorities about home lending.

Whatever the explanation, the fact is banks still make far fewer loans to blacks. This traps thousands of potential black homebuyers in neighborhoods with lagging services, deteriorating schools and a paucity of health services.

The scarcity of loan dollars for blacks has other damaging consequences. It makes black workers prey for predatory lenders who make loans to them at exorbitant rates. It stunts business and commercial development in inner-city neighborhoods since many retailers focus on stable, middle-class residential areas.

Bush can fulfill his pledge by prodding banks to set firm lending goals, reexamine credit requirements, earmark more funds for loans in minority communities and better promote programs and services in minority communities. Most important, Bush should increase spending to build and refurbish affordable public housing.

Bush rightly fingered the racial gap in home ownership as a national problem. But unless he does more than he's pledged so far, it sounds like little more than a ploy to curry favor with black voters.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. He can be heard on KPFK Radio, 90.7FM, Tuesday, 7-8 p.m.

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