Celebrating Black History Month: Q&A with Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance

In our ongoing celebration of Black History Month, USMI reached out to prominent leaders in the housing finance and mortgage industries to discuss their work and perspectives on the goal of increasing Black homeownership in America. While homeownership has risen over the past few years, so has the growing recognition of the significant racial and economic disparities in mortgage lending and access to affordable mortgage credit, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 2.6 million homeowners that are currently past due on their mortgages, as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association, over half of them are people of color, according to Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data for the period of January 20 to February 1, 2021. This situation presents an opportunity for policymakers to correct inequities and better support minority homebuyers.

For more than 60 years, the private mortgage insurance (MI) industry has enabled more than 33 million low- and moderate-income Americans to attain affordable and sustainable homeownership in the conventional market. In the past year alone, nearly 60 percent of borrowers who purchased their home using private MI were first-time homebuyers, and more than 40 percent had incomes of $75,000 or less. It is a goal of the MI industry to work with regulators and lawmakers to increase minority lending within the conventional mortgage market, and Black History Month is a perfect time to advance this conversation.

Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), recently shared with USMI her thoughts on these issues and others, relating to the mortgage finance sector in 2021 and beyond

(1) How does Black History Month intersect with the issue of homeownership?

Race and homeownership are inextricably linked. Due to government-sanctioned discriminatory policies and practices that have been in place since the birth of this country, Black Americans have been systematically excluded from wealth-building opportunities such as homeownership. Redlining, which persists in various forms today, real estate sales discrimination, appraisal bias, lending discrimination, and tech bias are significant barriers that keep the dream of homeownership from becoming a reality for many Black Americans.

Moreover, structural barriers such as the dual credit market, segregation, and restrictive zoning ordinances create systemic impediments which significantly prohibit the ability of people of color to access fair housing and lending opportunities and perpetuates the racial wealth and homeownership gaps.

In fact, the homeownership rate for Black Americans is still where it was when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968; White homeownership is 73.4 percent; Hispanic homeownership is 47.8 percent; and Black homeownership is 42.7 percent. This translates to a homeownership gap between Blacks and Whites that is as wide now as it was in 1890. Black History Month is a key opportunity to shine a light on these issues, and we must work to address them year-round.

(2) What are the top two or three 2021 priorities that lawmakers and the new Administration should focus on related to housing finance?

We hope the new Congress and Administration will make the following policy goals a top priority:

  • Eliminating the dual credit market and creating access to sustainable and affordable credit for all;
  • Compelling federal agencies and local jurisdictions to remove barriers to housing inequality by Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and ensure that every neighborhood has the resources and amenities people need to thrive;
  • Putting in place a comprehensive infrastructure program to improve roads, bridges, housing, water access facilities, and other systems in an equitable manner;
  • Strengthening the nation’s fair housing and fair lending enforcement infrastructure; and
  • Creating greater fairness in the housing and financial services industries – this must include developing policies that promote more effective oversight for Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools.

(3) Can greater homeownership racial equity be achieved in the next 5 to 10 years in America, and what must happen to increase the rate of Black homeownership?

Groups like NFHA have spent years crafting policy recommendations and developing tools to help make homeownership racial equity a reality, so it’s certainly an achievable goal but our lawmakers and policymakers must have the will to translate ideas into reality. We are working with a broad range of stakeholders – including the Urban Institute, National Housing Conference, Center for Responsible Lending, National Association of REALTORS®, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, and many others – through our Keys Unlock Dreams Initiative to add 3 million net new Black homeowners by 2030 and to achieve a 50 percent Latino homeownership rate by 2024. Through our Tech Equity Initiative, we are working to remove bias from all technologies used in the housing and financial services space.

We are optimistic, and we look forward to working with Congress and the new Administration to make this happen. In light of COVID-19, one of the first steps we will need to take is ensuring an even recovery from the pandemic and economic crisis – this means supporting small businesses in communities of color, passing a robust relief package with significant assistance for the hardest hit renters and homeowners who are facing eviction or foreclosure, and ensuring health care gets to those who need it. But beyond that, we will need to go back and fix the centuries-old structures that continue to cause uneven economic recoveries along racial lines every time our country faces a crisis.

Lisa Rice’s Biography

As President and CEO of the NFHA, Lisa Rice leads efforts by NFHA and its partners to advance fair housing principles and to preserve and broaden fair housing protections, expanding equal housing opportunities for millions of Americans.

Ms. Rice played a major role in crafting sections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and in establishing the Office of Fair Lending within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Prior to becoming President and CEO, she served as NFHA’s Executive Vice President and managed the organization’s resource development, public policy, communications, and enforcement divisions.

Ms. Rice is a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Board of Directors, Center for Responsible Lending Board of Directors, JPMorgan Chase Consumer Advisory Council, Mortgage Bankers Association’s Consumer Advisory Council, Freddie Mac Affordable Housing Advisory Council, Urban Institute’s Mortgage Servicing Collaborative, and Quicken Loans Consumer Advisory Forum.

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