Advocates Are Highlighting Black Homeownership for National Housing Month

McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) won a $10,000 fair housing settlement last November against a property management company, CIM Group LP, a global real estate company headquartered in Los Angeles, and property owner, RACR Sora, LLC, for implementing a blanket ban on renting to tenants with criminal histories at Sora Apartments in Inglewood.

That illegal policy led to a number of Black applicants being rejected. 

Three months earlier, the department, which enforces California’s civil rights laws, won another $20,000 civil rights settlement against a Lemon Grove property manager, who had targeted a Black tenant with a series of racist actions and threats of violence. 

CRD Director Kevin Kish said the department investigates cases of apparent racial bias in housing and sometimes more subtle acts of prejudice like nuisance-free or crime-free housing policies or holding tenants to different standards based on their race. 

“You see no crime ordinances used in a discriminatory way,” he explained. “People will get evicted if they call the police. This can negatively impact victims of domestic violence. We also see these no crime ordinances, or no crime policies, used in racially discriminatory ways. If there is some kind of incident, and the police are called and it involves a Black family, then they get evicted, but other folks aren’t necessarily evicted.”

April is National Fair Housing Month. In observance of it, the CRD and housing advocacy organizations across the state are highlighting fair housing practices and Black home ownership. 

April 11 marked the 56th anniversary of President Lydon B. Johnson signing the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, and nationality. Johnson signed the act into law one week after civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. 

After more than half a century, Kish said instances of biased housing practices still happen.

“A lot has changed obviously,” he said. “Nobody is going to say the world that we live today is the world our grandparents and great-grandparents confronted, but some of what we see is exactly the same.”

Kish noted that William Byron Rumford, the first Black California State Assemblymember, spearheaded the passing of the Rumford Act in 1963. That law sought to end discriminatory housing practices in the Golden State, five years before the Fair Housing Act became law. 

In 1963, California voters passed a ballot initiative known as Proposition 14. Introduced to counter Rumford’s groundbreaking law, it allowed biased activity in housing again. The discriminatory legislation was eventually deemed unconstitutional in April 1968. 

Real estate agent and housing advocate Ashley Garner said Rumford, a state representative from Northern California, does not get the recognition he deserves for his groundbreaking efforts to eradicate prejudiced housing practices. 

“No one talks about this Black man, who felt oppression from the government and did something about it,” Garner noted.  

Garner is the director of the CLTRE Keeper Home Ownership program. That organization gave 25 Black, indigenous, and people of color $17,500 each in down payment and credit repair support to purchase a home in Oak Park, a traditionally Black neighborhood in Sacramento, last fall. CLTRE obtained a $500,000 grant from the city of Sacramento to award the funds to the residents after they completed an eight-week homeownership program.

In 2021, CRD investigated 898 housing discrimination complaints. That same year, the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) noted that around four in 10 Black California families owned homes. That number is similar to the Black homeownership rates in the 1960s. Currently, the rate of Black homeownership trails that of White, Asian-American, and Latinos. 

According to Forbes, California has the highest average home price in the United States. The median price for a home in California is over $500,000. Double the cost of a home in the rest of the country. 

Garner said for more Black Californians to become homeowners, innovation is required. 

“There is no way to get Black homeownership in a forward trajectory until we get creative,” Garner explained. “Look at how expensive it is in California to own a home and how low incomes are.”

Support for Black first-time homebuyers, homeowners’ mortgage assistance and property tax relief for neighborhoods restricted by historic redlining are among the bills included in the 2024 Reparations Priority Bill Package introduced by Black lawmakers this month. The package builds on recommendations included in the final report the California reparations task force delivered to the Legislature in 2023. 

California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) spokesperson Eric Johnson said CalHFA helps prospective low-income and moderate-income Californians purchase homes by offering down payment and closing cost aid.

“There are lots of people who have steady jobs, good credit scores, constant income, but they haven’t been able to save up the money that traditional banks need or want to see for a down payment,” Johnson stated. “We help those folks out. We give a loan for the down payment to get them over that hurdle.”

Finding affordable housing, Johnson detailed, is a problem because of high interest rates, low availability of homes, zoning issues, and sky rocketing home prices.

CalHFA conducts educational workshops and expos for prospective homebuyers. There was one on April 10 in Inglewood. There are events scheduled this month in Walnut, San Fernando, Riverside, and Cerritos. 

CRD and the Department of Real Estate hosted “Fair Housing Protections for People with Criminal Histories” Zoom call on April 10. 

On April 16 and April 25, CRD will hold Zoom seminars focused on advocating for fair housing for people with disabilities, who are discriminated against the most in housing, according to CRD.  

Garner said without policies to help people in underserved communities buy a home, those people will leave California. 

 “We need to create solutions for people to be able to call California home,” she said.