Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sad World

"Parallels with 1960s contract selling and the 1970s FHA scandals abound. Subprime borrowers were persuaded to take on risky debts by brokers who promised to 'look out for their best interests.'..Perhaps the saddest echo of all lies in the HMDA-based finding that between 2004 and 2006 the American city with the most residents holding subprime loans was -- Chicago."

Beryl Satter,Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

Family Properties is a multi-layered story about how the contract selling of homes in the 1950s and 1960s took advantage of and fueled dual housing markets and the disinvestment in racially-changing neighborhoods like Chicago's west-side Lawndale. It is also the heroic story of more than two decades of opposition to contract selling by legal advocates like the author's father and by the contract buyers themselves and their community organizing partners.

The community ultimately lost the legal cases but achieved substantial settlements for families, set some legal precedents, and laid the groundwork for new challenges that ultimately led to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA).

Unfortunately, Lawndale kept deteriorating, becoming the emblem for the "urban underclass" in the 1980s and the failure of community development strategies to stem the tide of disinvestment and concentrated poverty. At the same time, the organizing foundation of the effort fell apart from the rigors of long-term struggle, the transitioning of leadership, and the banishment of supporters like Monsignor Jack Egan.

In the last decade or so, Lawndale has grabbed more control of its future, building upon the assets and leadership developed in the 1960s.

Family Properties inspires by showing ordinary people fighting back and winning important relief. It also leaves us with the disheartening paradox that racial progress in the U.S. has not stopped the willingness of mainstream institutions and their unscupulous colleagues from exploiting communities of color and the poor, in the past and now.

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