By Kerri Panchuk

June 28, 2011


Advocacy groups re-ignited a decade-long debate over what role the federal government should play in creating homeownership opportunities for low-income and minority families this week.

One such group, the Woodstock Institute, is fighting the proposed 20% down-payment requirement under the qualified residential mortgage rule, saying it’s a definite barrier to minority homeownership.

“Few, if any, people and families of color currently have that kind of wealth,” the Woodstock Institute said. “Some have estimated that it would take some lower-income, lower-wealth Latino families 14 or more years to raise such a sizeable down payment for an average size, modestly priced home.”

But the debate over affordable housing for minorities is not that simple, other policy groups say. Researchers at conservative think tank Cato Institute have blamed government programs for creating the housing bubble by focusing too much on homeownership growth, while ignoring underlying financials.

In a report on Cato’s website, researcher Tad Dehaven  pinpointed the mid-nineties as the start of today’s housing crisis. “In the Clinton administration, a primary mission of HUD was to increase home ownership rates, especially among minorities and low-income families.”

Cato claims the move in 1992 to give the Housing and Urban Development Department regulatory authority over the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “began pushing the two firms into the subprime lending business” and that push led to lax underwriting standards for the purpose of creating financial vehicles that could cater to underserved markets.

The Woodstock Institute, on the other hand, blames the”Ownership Society” of the Bush administration for going too far with the government’s home ownership expansion initiative by not creating “effective safeguards against unchecked and unscrupulous lenders.”

Either way, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Dodd-Frank Act are caught in the middle of two competing goals. Beginning July 21, CFPB officials will be charged with creating “laws that outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance,” according to the agency’s website. But the CFPB’s interest in creating opportunities in housing will be juxtaposed against its desire to ensure individuals given loans meet some type of financial standard to assess their ability to repay.

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