Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell and Living Well, Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.
Suddenly it dawns on you that you lost your home and your life savings, and your credit rating tanked not by accident, but by design of predatory lenders. Vultures circled black communities looking for
prey, and you, a highly-educated, middle-class black woman, fit the profile.
I am among those in that profile of black women who played by the rules that were passed down for generations through our families. We graduated from college with advanced degrees; we side-stepped instant spending gratification for prudent savings and investing in real estate. We paid our bills early to keep our credit scores above 700. Now we are at advanced ages, and instead of enjoying the fruit of our labor, our finances are in shambles because of the subprime housing implosion, and we are forced to find ways to start all over again.
Just last week we were reminded of how banks preyed on black and Latino families, all for a quick buck. Wells Fargo agreed on Thursday to spend at least $175 million to settle federal accusations that it steered black and Latino borrowers into high-cost loans and charged them excessive fees.
Indeed, national data show that people of color and their communities were stalked, singled out by those who are now profiting from their loss by buying up properties cheap and renting them out at inflated prices. Hit hard by high unemployment, foreclosures, lack of cash and credit, African Americans are suffering from more than an economic crisis. It is also a betrayal — a psychological meltdown and a cultural implosion resulting from being bamboozled by financial systems they thought were trustworthy.
Carolyn Holbrook, 67, of Minneapolis, says she is in therapy to cope with her grief over the townhouse she lost two years ago. “It is more than just losing a house. It is like losing a part of yourself, like a part of you died. My home was where my children and grandchildren came,” she told me.
Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, says: “We are looking at intentional draining of black wealth that has set us back generations. Driven by the housing crisis, black wealth has dropped 52 percent in four years during the recession, which is the largest loss of black wealth since Reconstruction following the Civil War, a huge tragedy.”
Looking at the status of black women, DeWeever analyzed federal data in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. It showed that middle- to upper -income African American women in 80 percent of the 100 cities surveyed were more likely to receive a high-cost subprime loan than other groups. Last month, a former Wells Fargo employee said that she and her co-workers purposely sold shoddy mortgages to would be African-American homeowners, especially in Prince George’s County and Balitmore.
Overall, African Americans and Latinos were 30 percent more likely to receive high-rate subprime loans compared with white borrowers. These practices are estimated to cost African American and Latino families about $200 billion in assets due to foreclosures between 2006 and 2008, but could cost those families another $370 billion between 2009 and 2012, according to a study released in May 2012 by Charlotte Otabor of Howard University and Jessica Nembhard of the City University of New York.
Statistics, however, can’t begin to show the emotional burdens of those, such as Sylvia McDonald Kaufmann, an attorney with a master’s degree in divinity, who saw their dream of home ownership crudely snatched away.
“Using prevailing wisdom, I put down 50 percent on a $405,000 home in Fort Washington in order to pay off the mortgage quickly and put some money away from retirement,” said Kaufmann, who moved from Fairfax to Prince George’s County. Shortly after the move, she received a reduction in pay after a transfer between departments at her job at Howard University. She asked her lending institution, Bank of America, to tack on a couple of months’ payment to the back of the loan. The bank did so, but then raised the mortgage $300.
“That was when I learned I had a subprime mortgage,” she said.
Kaufmann said that when she lived in Fairfax, she asked her bank if she could be 15 days late.
“They cordially gave me three months of payments to tack on the end without my asking for it,” she said. “So in a white, highly educated county, where I only put 10 percent down on a house, I received in excess of what I needed, but in a predominately black county where I put 50 percent down, my mortgage payment was not only raised but I was reported late each month to the credit bureau, which damaged my credit. Then the bank suspended the ‘tack-on’and refused to work with me, and I was pushed out of the home.”
With savings drained from trying to meet unreasonable housing payments, credit shot, the family’s income cut, the Kaufmanns now live with friends. For the first time in decades, Sylvia Kaufmann is a tenant, instead of a homeowner. “I have to admit I went through a period of grief, feelings of personal failure, because my family has always been landowners,” she said. “But I came to myself and said enough of that. I have a value system based on faith in God. My outlook for the future will always be positive.”
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