The ability to exercise agency over where one lives is a hallmark of freedom. And yet, this privilege has not been equally afforded to all. Race has been—and continues to be—a potent force in the distribution of opportunity in American society. Despite decades of civil rights successes and fair housing activism, who gets access to housing and credit, on what terms, and where, remains driven by race. This is important to our shared future, because investments in homeownership are multiple and generational. Indeed, research shows that the biggest factor in the Black-White wealth gap is years of homeownership, showing how critical positive home equity is to building wealth. Racialized systems that generate lasting inequality may perpetuate self-fulfilling expectations, where “structural disadvantages (e.g., poverty, joblessness, crime) come to be seen as cause, rather than consequence, of persistent racial inequality, justifying and reinforcing negative racial stereotypes.”
There is a clear record of the impact of structural racism on opportunities for people of color in home-buying and credit access today. Structural racism describes the process by which policies, organizations, institutions, systems, culture and history interact across institutional domains to produce and sustain racial inequality. In terms of housing and credit, racial residential segregation has been a critical structural force. For example, historically, people of color have been restricted from buying homes in particular neighborhoods, regardless of their ability to pay, through practices such as racial covenants or redlining. Today’s exclusions are less overt, but segregation remains, thus limiting people from the benefits that we know attends living in neighborhoods of high opportunity. W.E.B. DuBois acknowledged one hundred years ago that the health of minority populations is heavily influenced by the social institutions around them.1 Not only do housing and credit form the lifeline for our national economy, but they serve as the economic lifeline for many of us individually. Housing and credit can influence our daily lives: the better one’s access to safe, affordable housing, the better one’s outcomes tend to be along a range of indicators of individual, family, and community well-being.