They photographed one home in a predominantly black neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio (shown above), where the gutter had collapsed onto the porch and much of the siding had peeled into the yard. That seemingly well-tended bush in the front yard? This is what was behind it:
They went to a home in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the wood was rotting overhead on the front porch and the windows were boarded up with plywood. They documented a single-family home on a corner lot in Oakland — a bungalow, painted a sunny yellow, that's easy to picture in better days — with curious holes punched into the exterior walls.
The complaint, based on an investigation of 2,106 foreclosed Fannie Mae-owned properties, mirrors similar accusations fair-housing advocates have made against big banks. Here, they argue that Fannie Mae's own contractors have taken considerably more care in maintaining and marketing foreclosed homes in comparable working- and middle-class white neighborhoods.
In each city, the group assessed every Fannie Mae-owned property in predominantly white and minority zip codes selected for what had been high homeownership rates (so the zip codes were chosen by the housing alliance, but the individual properties within them weren't cherry-picked).
Across the country, the homes in white neighborhoods had significantly fewer problems. Homes in minority communities were twice as likely to have broken, boarded-up or unsecured windows, and they were more than twice as likely to have trash on the property. In Oakland, about a third of the homes in minority neighborhoods had holes in the structure. None of the homes in white neighborhoods did. In Baltimore, 63 percent of the foreclosures in minority neighborhoods had overgrown or dead shrubbery; in white communities, 27 percent did.
Fannie Mae's own standards — as well as city laws in many places — require that all of these homes receive regular maintenance, and Fannie Mae contracts out to national companies to manage this costly work.
"So Fannie has paid for work that’s never been done," says Shanna L. Smith, the National Fair Housing Alliance's CEO. "We’ve been pointing that out to them since 2010. I keep saying 'OK, you’re paying the contractors millions of dollars, where are your quality-control measures making sure you’re paying for work that’s been done?'"
Fannie Mae in a statement said that it "strongly disagrees" with the complaint and the accusation that it has been discriminating against minority neighborhoods. "We are confident that our standards ensure that properties in all neighborhoods are treated equally," it said, "and we perform rigorous quality control to make sure that is the case."
The difference between a well-maintained property and a neglected one is also the difference between a home that's likely to sell soon and one that could decay on a block indefinitely, dragging down surrounding property values. If homes on that downward spiral are disproportionately found in minority neighborhoods, that means the same communities hit hardest first by predatory lending, and then the foreclosure crisis, are now suffering the most all over again from a whole new kind of post-housing bust harm.
"Not maintaining them doesn’t make economic case," Smith says of these homes. "But discrimination is irrational."
Here are more pictures of what that discrimination, in her view, looks like: