How Ruthless Banks Gutted the Black Middle Class and Got Away With It

Linked with the Loop21.com. – Published on AlterNet, by Devona Walker, Sept. 4, 2010.

The real estate and foreclosure crisis has stripped African-American families of more wealth than any single event in history. The American middle class has been hammered over the last several decades. The black middle class has suffered to an even greater degree. But the single most crippling blow has been the real estate and foreclosure crisis. It has stripped black families of more wealth than any single event in U.S. history. Due entirely to subprime loans, black borrowers are expected to lose between $71 billion and $92 billion. 

To fully understand why the foreclosure crisis has so disproportionately affected working- and middle-class blacks, it is important to provide a little background. Many of these American families watched on the sidelines as everyone and their dog seemed to jump into the real estate game. The communities they lived in were changing, gentrifying, and many blacks unable to purchase homes were forced out as new homeowners moved in. They were fed daily on the benefits of home ownership. Their communities, churches and social networks were inundated by smooth-talking but shady fly-by-night brokers. With a home, they believed, came stability, wealth and good schools for their children. Home ownership, which accounts for upwards of 80 percent of the average American family’s wealth, was the basis of permanent membership into the American middle class. They were primed to fall for the American Dream con job.

Black and Latino minorities have been disproportionately targeted and affected by subprime loans. In California, one-eighth of all residences, or 702,000 homes, are in foreclosure. Black and Latino families make up more than half that number. Latino and African-American borrowers in California, according to figures from the Center for Responsible Lending, have foreclosure rates 2.3 and 1.9 times that of non-Hispanic white families.

There is little indication that things will get much better any time soon.

The Ripple Effect: … //

… … Minority business owners are often more dependent upon minority communities for survival, which of course are disproportionately depressed due to subprime lending. Consequently, minority business owners have a lower chance of success. Banks, understanding that, are even less likely to lend. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s beginning to resemble the traditional “redlining” of the 1980s and 1990s.

“After inflicting harm on neighborhoods of color through years of problematic subprime and option ARM loans, banks are now pulling back at a time when communities are most in need of responsible loans and investment,” said Geoff Smith, senior vice president of the Woodstock Institute.

Believe it or not, no one in a position of power to stop all this from unfolding was blindsided. Ben Bernanke was warned years ago about the long-term implications of the real estate bubble and subprime lending. Still, he set idly by. He told the advocates who warned him that the market would work it all out. Perhaps they thought the fallout would be limited to minority communities, or perhaps they just didn’t care. (full long 3 pages text).

(Devona Walker has worked for the Associated Press and the New York Times company. Currently she is the senior political and finance reporter for theloop21.com).

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