gold is the author of Wellness by Design and writes about residential real estate for Forbes.com. She lives in Eastlake.
For the record:
6:58 a.m. Aug. 7, 2022In a first version of this comment, the author’s name was misspelled.
California established a task force in 2020 to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans to address the horrors of slavery faced by the state’s African American descendants. Those who wonder why a “free state” seeks reparations are probably unaware of California’s Fugitive Slave Law of 1852, which affected enslaved Southerners brought here during the Gold Rush to work for their masters to work. According to the California Historical Society, slavery was openly, though not legally, practiced during this period as well.
Of course, there are good reasons to consider reparations, but the task force’s decision last March to extend the beneficiaries to the descendants of black Americans of the 19 US later — including thousands of immigrants who helped make our state an economic one has become a center of power.
This will inevitably exclude some of the 1.2 million black World War II veterans who have been denied GI Bill benefits — and generations of their families — because of discriminatory real estate practices known as redlining.
This system, created by a New Deal-era federal agency known as Home Owners’ Loan Corp., flagged neighborhoods where minority homes were shown as high-risk, prompting lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals to consider them to avoid “red marked” areas . This excluded many blacks (and other non-whites) from America’s most successful wealth-building housing program of the 20th century. The task force’s criteria will also exclude some of these older veterinarians and their descendants from 21st-century compensation.
To right this wrong, California should create a first-in-the-century GI law for retired veterans and their families that can capitalize on the public’s tremendous affection and respect for those who have served our nation. While two-thirds of Americans oppose cash reparations, an initiative that compensates underserved veterans’ families could garner widespread support and serve as a national model.
There is a certain will for such a program nationwide. When House Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina introduced a 2021 Veterans Day GI Restoration Act, he declared, “This is an opportunity for America to right a tremendous mistake.” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, simultaneously introduced one similar legislation in the Senate. Her bills would expand the VA Home Loan Guarantee Program to Black World War II veterans and their descendants who were alive at the time the bill was passed.
Not only can a new GI law right a historic economic wrong and address America’s egregious racial homeownership divide — 65.5 percent white versus 43.3 percent black in 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors — but a new GI law can too can reduce homelessness and improve public health. This is especially true in California’s red-hot housing markets, where tenants are burdened more by costs than homeowners and the poorest residents are the hardest hit by housing affordability, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. Although redlining officially ended with the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, its impact is still being felt in “higher prevalence of poverty and greater social vulnerability,” according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
According to studies by Jovita Murillo-León, a public health physician at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, people who are at the mercy of constant rent increases and developmental displacement are more vulnerable to ending up on the streets and suffering related medical harm and science. “Research shows that cost-burdened households are often forced into overcrowded and inadequate housing conditions, which is associated with high mortality rates, infectious and chronic diseases, and physical and mental health problems,” she said in an interview. “By establishing a new GI Bill loan program, California can finally take the right steps to address racial disparities among African American communities and give them the opportunity to develop wealth and improve their health.”
Will such a program be easy to implement here? Probably not, as documentation may be difficult to find, affordable housing may be scarce, cash-strapped recipients may have trouble covering moving-in costs, and black Americans often have lower credit ratings, which drives up borrowing costs. These are not insurmountable challenges, and many descendants of those appointed by the Reparations Task Force in the 19th century will face some of the same problems.
A contact can be designated within the appropriate state agencies and Veterans Affairs mortgage partners to help with administrative procedures, provide credit advice when needed, cap interest rates, and waive property taxes for the first year of home ownership to fund relocation expenses, initial repairs, and the like essential. The California Department of Housing and Community Development, which already has experience working with other state agencies on relevant issues, could be the ideal leader to create and coordinate this new initiative.
“Introducing zero-rate/low-interest mortgages can help African Americans buy a home [and] ultimately help improve the health of African American communities,” suggested Murillo-León.
Wouldn’t that be the best and fairest outcome for black Californians and the state’s reparations task force?