“The killing of Michael Brown is a problem we all share.”

I work for a civil rights organization; an old, established one with a formidable reputation.  I do research for them; I get paid to make sense of the inequalities that exist in our country.  I am a middle class, well-educated white male and constantly struggle with the fact that I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do what I do for a living.  The killing of Michael Brown has affected me tremendously, in ways that I have yet to even fully comprehend.  Maybe it has to do with the idea that I like to think that what I do makes a difference and that fighting the good fight matters; I guess it does on some level.  The fact remains that there are stark inequalities between races in this country.  These disparities aren’t some sort of modern day Darwinism played out within the confines of our society – they have been purposefully designed and implemented to move the advantaged further ahead at the expense of the disadvantaged.  We don’t, by any stretch of the imagination live in a “post-racial” world; race has almost everything to do with, well pretty much everything.

Understanding and more importantly accepting the fact that public policy over the past (at least) 100 years has purposefully oppressed people based on skin color is the first step to understanding why the killing of Michael Brown is a problem we all share.  Inequality abounds in the natural world; faster or more alert or more naturally cautious little fish grow up to be bigger fish; sluggish, less alert or less cautious fish become dinner.  Fish however, at least as far as I know, aren’t prone to public policy that dictates whether they become dinner or get to grow up.  Humans are a different case; we impose rules, regulations and public policy rooted in the retention of power rather than the expansion of equity and morality.

I’m not an expert on constitutional law, sociology, law enforcement, or race relations. I am an expert in civil rights research and data analysis.  I have conducted exhaustive research on the impacts of public policies on our urban areas, from the discriminatory practices of the Home Owners Loan Corporation which dictated where private home loans would be insured by the Federal government, to the impacts Brown V. Board of Education had on the fabric of our society.  In Richmond as in many other cities across the Country, bus lines don’t extend into job-rich suburban counties, educational infrastructure is crumbling, public housing policies ensure that poverty is deeply concentrated, disparities across the board are rising. The mortgage lending debacle that lend to the collapse of the economy was centered in the communities most unable to weather the storm.  In Richmond, those neighborhoods with the highest rates of African American homeownership also experienced the highest rates of foreclosure.

Much of the work I do leaves me enraged.  It should enrage you too.  I believe that every life matters.  I believe that all people want a better life.  I believe that the inequalities in our society are no longer sustainable.  Part of me would like to see the outrage in Ferguson increase and spread to every city across the country.  However, the sensible side understands that the system we have all had a hand in creating can be changed.  It took hundreds of years of purposeful intent to get to where we are; it will take as many years to make things right.

Most of you are not engaged in the type of work that I am. Most of you do not spend time thinking about the tangible as well as intangible privileges you have or haven’t received due to your skin color. Frankly, it doesn’t matter.  I believe we all have the ability to change our system and this is my challenge to you: take a deep, hard look at your personal biases, try to understand from where they came and change them.  Until we, as a collective society, are able to see people as they truly are we will continue to prevent valuable lives from reaching their full potential and that, my friends, is an unfathomable travesty.


Brian Koziol is Director of Research at Housing Opportunities Made Equal.


The Monster in the Closet

Recently, the news has been consumed by coverage of Donald Sterling’s racist comments caught on tape and the NBA’s swift and decisive condemnation. This seems to denote a turning point in race relations in the United States. We’re tempted to declare that the Civil Rights Movement has been a success, open racism is no longer acceptable, we’ve won! And it’s true, overt racism is frowned upon today and few proudly proclaim their racist ideals anymore. Even the Ku Klux Klan no longer claims to be an “enemy” to minorities (but they aren’t particularly friendly, either).[i] Yet, in 2003 when Donald Sterling was accused of housing discrimination against current and prospective tenants in his apartment complexes, nobody batted an eye. This accusation has only resurfaced to be used as one more piece of evidence to prove that his recorded remarks were made with racist intent. To me, this proves that open expressions of racism and being perceived by the public as a racist are undesirable in America, but policies and practices with racist effects, as long as they are hard to see, are somehow acceptable. America is not post-racial, our country continues to rest upon invisible and systemic racism, but we make ourselves feel better about it by condemning those who make their racism known.

Possibly the best thing to come out of this Sterling controversy is a great article at CNN from Rinku Sen, the publisher at Colorlines.com and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. In the article, Sen identifies three things that need to be done in order to achieve racial equity: “talk explicitly about race; focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them; and support power-building in marginalized communities.”[ii] So far, none of these things are happening on a regular or highly effective basis at the national level. They are, however, happening at the local and regional level, and with much success. Sen goes on to detail a few instances in which groups have explicitly looked at the racial impact of policies and practices, which might on the surface seem benign, and made changes which had positive impacts for racial equality.

I’d like to continue what Sen started with a discussion of HOME and the ways we try to combat racism using Sen’s framework. HOME has been engaged in ensuring equal access to housing for all people since 1971. We’ve always had a focus on combating racism, as this is one of the biggest barriers to fair housing. We work both at the individual and the systemic level and the examples I’m about to give have to do with both internal efforts amongst staff as well as our external programs.

  1. Talk explicitly about race: In February of this year, HOME had an intentional staff-wide discussion of racism and white privilege. We spoke about the ways we as individuals and as an organization experience and confront racism in our daily lives and work. We challenged each other to use white privilege, if we have it, to confront and disrupt racism when we see it. Additionally, we decided that as an organization we need to do a better job of not only confronting racism but being real about the ways it influences us as an organization both internally and externally. As a result of this discussion, we’ve begun to set aside intentional times to engage openly and honestly with one another about racism and inequality once a week during what we call “Brown Bag Lunches.” Racism informs our work, in fact, it drives much of it. We have committed to the ongoing process of talking intentionally and explicitly about racism and inequality so that we can clearly name it and interrupt it when we see it.
  1. Focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them: As an organization with a specific emphasis on research and advocacy, HOME regularly engages in identifying and investigating the racial impact of state and local policies as well as policies of private companies. Our interest is in the ways these policies and practices impact access to housing and the credit to obtain housing. We regularly investigate the policies and practices of private and public entities within the housing industry and conduct independent research such as our recent project, “Mapping RVA: Where You Live Makes All the Difference.” These research endeavors are then used to change the practices and policies of the participants and serve as valuable educational tools for others who are interested in making better policies for the future.
  1. Support power-building in marginalized communities: Finally, we empower low-to-moderate income families in the Richmond Metro Region to take advantage of the opportunity to build wealth by purchasing their first home. 84% of these families are minorities. None of them could have purchased a home when they did without the support of HOME’s program for first-time homebuyers. Owning a home is one of the best ways to provide not only economic but social stability for a family and the larger community. A low rate of homeownership among minority groups in the U.S. is one of the biggest contributing factors to the wealth gap between whites and minorities. By providing low-to-moderate income families with the opportunity to become homeowners, HOME strengthens minority communities and enables these families to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

America is not post racial. Racism permeates every facet of society because our society has not learned to confront or even effectively talk about racism and the ways it works in our world. This stops us from reaching our highest potential as a nation.

Yes, it is something to be excited about that someone with as much power as Donald Sterling can lose it all with an ill-timed racist remark, but invisible, systemic racism abounds in our society and we are letting it happen. Rinku Sen and I have given you a few examples of ways people are working to eliminate this proverbial monster in the closet, but it can’t be completed without a visible and systemic effort at the individual, local, regional, state and national levels. We have to condemn the covert as well as the overt acts of racism. All the anger and indignation over Donald Sterling will mean nothing if people are still denied full membership in society simply because of who they are.




[i] http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/chesterfield/chesterfield-residents-receive-kkk-fliers/article_ed60e60e-78ec-55f4-a6ef-0d579292069f.html

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/07/living/race-sterling-identity/


Morgan Barker is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at HOME. She is a Richmond native with a passion for social justice.

3 ways to best use HUD’s new housing affordability data

A great blog post about how best use HUD’s new data on housing affordability:

Three Ways to Use Data from the Location Affordability Portal to Inform Policy and Practice:

1. Understand the “complete costs of place” of a proposed affordable housing development. If we really want to deliver housing that is affordable, we need to focus not only on the costs of rent or a mortgage, but also on the costs of heating / cooling the home and getting to and from work and around town—collectively, the “complete costs of place.”  A home that offers low housing costs but requires residents to spend all the savings on higher transportation costs is no bargain.  While cost is not the only relevant factor in siting affordable housing (see below), it is an important one, and developers can increase the odds that a home with low housing costs is truly affordable by using the Location Affordability Portal to estimate a site’s transportation costs and factoring that into an estimate of the complete costs of place.

2. Target transportation investments to places with low housing costs but high transportation costs. There are two main ways of ensuring that the combined costs of housing and transportation are affordable to low- and moderate-income households: reduce the housing costs of places where transportation costs are already low (see item No. 1 above) or reduce the transportation costs of places where housing costs are already low. The Location Affordability Portal can help communities identify places where transportation investments—such as car sharing, improved commuter bus service, and improved pedestrian infrastructure—are needed to help improve affordability for low- and moderate-income households that have relatively affordable housing costs but high transportation costs.

3. Compare communities and regions. Sometimes policymakers, advocates or researchers find it useful to compare housing costs across regions—for example, to identify places with policies we may wish to emulate. If these analyses consider only housing costs but ignore transportation costs, they may well give us distorted results.  For example, in an analysis of the housing and transportation costs of the 25 largest metro areas, we found that Houston had the eighth most affordable housing costs (as a percentage of income).  But when we considered housing and transportation costs together, Houston dropped to 17th, making it one of the less affordable regions.  The Location Affordability Portal provides useful metrics for comparing the combined costs of housing and transportation costs across jurisdictions.

Banks maintaining properties differently in white vs black neighborhoods

An interview with Shanti Abedin from the National Fair Housing Alliance examining how Banks are maintaining the homes they own in different neighborhoods.

Poverty has increased dramatically in RVA suburbs

As poverty increases, affordable housing, access to public transportation, and linkages between housing, transportation, and job centers become more important for RVA region.

The recent New York Times story about suburban poverty is getting a lot of attention.  The story notes the shifting growth of poverty from the urban core of New York to its suburban peripheries, but it’s based around Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, a book released today by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube at the Brookings Institution.  Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet (yet!), but this trend came up in some data I was looking at recently.  In Virginia, Richmond and its immediate counties – Chesterfield and Henrico – are good examples of this trend in action.

The shift of poverty growth from the city to the suburbs is a trend we can see pretty clearly in the numbers.  A look at data comparing poverty in the City of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico, shows trends that aren’t far off from those outlined in the Times article.

The City of Richmond gets attention throughout the region for its poverty rate, which was 26.4 according to 2011 estimates.  The city’s mayor, Dwight Jones, made the development of an antipoverty strategy one of the first priorities of his second term.  But the bulk of the region’s poverty growth – numbers of people rather than rates – is happening in the suburbs.

From 1989 to 2011, which is as far back as the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates go, the City of Richmond’s population in poverty has grown by about 14%, or about 6,200 people.  In terms of poverty rate, that’s a 3.4 point increase, from 23.0 to 26.4.  In the same time period, Henrico has seen its population below poverty grow by 163% (20,500 individuals), and Chesterfield by 181% (14,500 individuals).

Suburban poverty rates remain lower the city’s 26.4, but poverty growth in the counties has outpaced total population growth.  Point increases in the poverty rate of a suburban county – where the total population has been growing rapidly for decades – represent more people than point increases in the rate of the city – where the total population only recently reversed its shrinking numbers.  Henrico’s poverty rate increased 5.0 points between 1989 and 2011 (5.8 to 10.8).  Chesterfield’s increased 3.4 points (3.8 to 7.2).  As noted above, Richmond also had a 3.4 point increase over those 22 years.  But Chesterfield’s 3.4 point increase represents 14,500 individuals, more than double Richmond’s 3.4 point increase of 6,200 individuals.

The chart below shows pretty clearly just how significant those changes have been:


The growth of poverty in jurisdictions throughout the region is cause for concern, and the trend of more rapid suburban growth is important.  As the suburban population of individuals below poverty increases, Richmond’s share of the region’s poverty drops.  In 1989, the city’s share of poverty among the three jurisdictions was 68.5%.  Today, it’s 47.9% (see the chart below).  There are more people in poverty in the immediate suburbs of Richmond than there are in the city.

The shifting geography of poverty away from the region’s urban core has important implications for policy decisions at the local and regional levels.  While there is still need for the antipoverty resources and strategies traditionally concentrated in the city, the counties are facing a growing problem.  The more widely distributed suburban residential patterns may make addressing those needs more costly.


Urban poverty in the Richmond region isn’t shrinking, but that’s not for lack of attention or effort.  Suburban poverty in Richmond has surpassed urban poverty in total numbers, presenting new challenges to the counties.  As the population of suburban poor continues to expand, antipoverty resources and infrastructure – affordable housing, access to public transportation, and linkages between housing, transportation, and job centers – will only increase in importance across the region.


This is a guest post by Mike MacKenzie. Mike is a Housing Research Analyst at HOME. He joined the staff in January 2013 after spending 2012 helping HOME study how local governments identify and address fair housing needs.  The former journalist and radio producer is passionate about sharing information and analysis that promotes transparency, informed decision-making, and accountability.  Mike specializes in fair housing planning, the spatial impacts of local policy decisions, and the federal regulations that guide local and state governments.  He received his Master of Urban and Regional Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011.

Lending discrimination imperils national prosperity

Our future economic prosperity could depend on mortgage lending discrimination

America is becoming more and more diverse. Given how much middle class wealth depends on home ownership and home values, if we do not significantly reduce mortgage lending discrimination, then we are placing our future economic prosperity at risk.

Heather Mullins Crislip

Heather Crislip

HOME CEO Heather Crislip writes about mortgage lending discrimination in her recent op/ed:

Subprime lending to minority borrowers has abated within the past few years; in its place is a lack of credit and, in turn, opportunity in African-American, Hispanic and low-income neighborhoods. During the housing boom these households were often targeted by unfair lending practices through the distribution of inferior mortgage loan products to qualified borrowers. The Center for Responsible Lending found that African-American and Latino borrowers with good credit were given high interest rate loans three times as often during the housing boom.

According to the US Census, by the end of this decade no single racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of children under 18. And in about three decades, no single group will constitute a majority of the country as a whole. But as we are growing more diverse, we are also growing more unequal. Both wealth and racial inequality have increased, in some cases dramatically.

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