Tag Archives: urban lifestyle

LIVING THE HIGH LIFE

LIVING THE HIGH LIFE

Too many modern flats are samey and soulless. A new book celebrates the architects coming up with creative solutions for our overcrowded cities

Michael Webb is a lucky man. An architecture and design critic, he has lived for nearly 40 years in a modernist hilltop apartment in Los Angeles, the same development where Orson Welles used to live. It is “well-planned…with abundant natural light”, surrounded by trees that give shade and privacy, and has windows “that pull in breezes from the ocean”. Two of its previous owners, Charles and Ray Eames, loved living there so much that when they moved out they wrote to its architect, Richard Neutra, to thank him.

The Isokon building in London (1933), designed by Wells Coates

Unsurprisingly, Webb is a strong advocate for flat-dwelling. In the introduction to his new book, “Building Community: New Apartment Architecture”, published by Thames and Hudson, he speaks of an “urgent need to build many more apartments” to relieve housing shortages in our cities, to use land more economically and to avoid long commutes to suburbia – which he describes as a “wasteful delusion”. (You can’t imagine him being a fan of the British government’s proposed solution to the housing crisis, which is to build houses in new, commuter-friendly garden villages.)

Sadly, he explains, most modern apartments are terrible. Risk-averse, profit-hungry developers conspire to produce blocks and towers packed with “claustrophobic cells [that] open off double-loaded corridors. Light and air come from one side only, and balconies are usually vestigial.” A brief survey of the finest modernist and brutalist schemes – from the Isokon building in Hampstead to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille – is a depressing reminder of our current paucity of imagination.

In an attempt to demonstrate the “unrealised potential” of the apartment building, Webb has gathered together 30 examples of recent developments from around the world. They range fom luxury flats to social housing; from low-rise buildings to high-rises. There aren’t as many photographs of the interiors as there might have been and while Webb has interviewed many of the architects you long to hear the voices of the residents (who are, after all, the ultimate judges of a building’s success). But it’s fascinating to see these creative responses to the deceptively simple challenge of fitting a lot of people into a small space.

 

CityLife, Milan, Zaha Hadid Architects (2004-14)

During the noughties, starchitects were falling over themselves to build apartments for the well-to-do. Zaha Hadid’s flats form part of the gated residential complex at CityLife, a 1km sq development in central Milan, which includes skyscrapers by Hadid, Daniel Libeskind (who also designed apartments) and Arata Isozaki, as well as a park and its own subway station. The streamlined curves of some 1930s flats (see the Isokon building) were a nod to the design of ocean-liners. Hadid’s apartments, with their rippling façade of cedar and white enamel, have all the subtlety of a mega-yacht. She wasn’t commissioned to design the apartment interiors (“probably just as well”, says Webb) but she did “shape the spaces”, adding even more curves for interior designers to contend with.

 

The Interlace, Singapore, OMA/Ole Scheeren (2007-13)

Imagine two giants playing Jenga and you have the Interlace, an apartment complex that is at once outrageous and awe-inspiring. Ole Scheeren, its architect, was so bored with the clusters of high-rises that were springing up all over Asia, that when he got a brief to fit 1,040 units over 20 acres, he decided to try a novel approach. The result is a kind of deconstructed high-rise – complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and a thoughtful amount of greenery – that Scheeren believes is a prototype for affordable living. He is proud that the Interlace is 90% occupied, “unlike many upscale towers that have become ghost towns because apartments are bought for speculation and sit empty.”

 

25 Verde, Turin, Luciano Pia (2007-13)

If the Swiss Family Robinson moved to Turin they would feel right at home in this green-fingered fantasy. The block incorporates 150 trees, looked after by residents with help from gardeners, who also tend the building’s communal garden. It is part of a growing trend for architects to “build” live trees into their creations. As well as being pleasing aesthetically, trees muffle noise pollution and provide shade and privacy. The 63 apartments, which, says Webb, “have attracted a diversity of middle-income residents”, range in size from 480 to a generous 1,720 sq ft.

 

Sugar Hill, New York, Adjaye Associates (2012-14)

“We tried not to make something merely acceptable to the poor – I find that idea quite offensive…what excited me was to create a building that was not just about housing [but rather] a new urban experience.” It was precisely David Adjaye’s excitement that convinced Broadway Housing Communities, a non-profit organisation, to commission him to build this 13-storey, mixed-use development in Harlem.

Clad in dark concrete that has been ribbed to catch the light, it is dotted with square windows which playfully reference the local architecture (although some neighbouring residents have compared it to a prison). As well as 124 flats – 70% are for people earning less than half the average wage and 25 are for homeless people – the building contains a children’s education centre, a children’s museum and workshops where residents are encouraged to make their own art.

It’s disappointing that the flats don’t have balconies and that most are single-aspect, with windows at just one end. It’s also a shame – especially given the family-focussed public areas – that there are so few three-bedroom flats (each floor contains only one, compared with five studio apartments). But architects have to work within tight constraints, both financially and in terms of the units they are asked to provide.

 

V_Itaim, Sao Paulo, Studio MK27 (2011-14)

One of the biggest objections people have had to living in flats is the lack of privacy. This is even more of a problem now, with the ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows found in modern developments. The architects of this tower block in Sao Paulo have devised an ingenious, and beautiful, solution. Shutters made from perforated freijo wood can be slid and folded across the windows, shielding residents from nosy onlookers and providing shade, as well as adding an ever-changing pattern to the concrete façade. If only the developers of the London flats that are overlooked by the viewing gallery at Tate Modern’s new extension, the Switch House, had been so imaginative.

Source: 1843 Magazine – ANNA BADDELEY | JANUARY 17TH 2017

Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, Thames & Hudson, February 23rd

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Homebuyers to get new mortgage incentive, Home Buyer’s Plan boost under 2019 budget

Homebuyers to get new mortgage incentive, Home Buyer’s Plan boost under 2019 budget

 

 

 

WATCH: Federal budget 2019: Incentives for first-time home buyers, skills training

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Can’t afford to buy a house? The government may take on part of the cost.

That is the gist of the boldest proposal that Budget 2019 puts forth to help more middle-income Canadians fulfill their homeownership dream.

Under the new CMHC First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation would use up to $1.25 billion over three years to help lower mortgage costs for eligible Canadians.

 

The money would go to first-time home buyers applying for insured mortgages. Borrowers would still have to pony up a down payment of at least five per cent of the home purchase price. On top of that, though, they would receive an incentive of up to 10 per cent of the house price, which would lower the amount of their mortgage.

For example, say you’re hoping to buy a $400,000 home with the minimum required five per cent down payment, which works out to $20,000. With the new incentive, you could receive up to $40,000 through the CMHC. Now, instead of taking out a $380,000 mortgage, you’d need to borrow only $340,000. This would lower your monthly mortgage bill from over $1,970 to less than $1,750.

The incentive would be 10 per cent for buyers purchasing a newly built home and 5 per cent for existing homes. Only households with an annual income under $120,000 would be able to participate in the program.

Watch: Finance Minister Bill Morneau presented the 2019 federal budget in the House of Commons Tuesday.


Home owners would eventually have to repay the incentive, possibly at re-sale, though it’s unclear yet how that would work.

Also, mortgage applicants still have to qualify under the federal stress test, which ensures that borrowers will be able to keep up with their debt repayments even at higher interest rates.

However, the incentive would essentially lower the bar for test takers, as applicants would have to qualify for a lower mortgage.

On the other hand, the amount of the insured mortgage plus the CMHC incentive would be capped at four times the home buyers’ annual incomes, or up to $480,000.

This means the most expensive homes Canadians would be able to buy this way would be worth around $500,000 ($480,000 max in insured mortgage and incentive, plus the down payment amount).

The government is hoping to have the program up and running by September.

Home Buyer’s Plan gets a boost

As was widely anticipated, the government would also enhance the Home Buyer’s Plan (HBP), which currently allows first-time buyers to take out up to $25,000 from their registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to finance the purchase of a home, without having to pay tax on the withdrawal. The budget proposes raising that cap to $35,000.

The new limit would apply to HBP withdrawals made after March 19, 2019.

New measures would encourage more borrowing, possibly drive up home prices

Economists said the new CMHC incentive and the enhanced HBP would encourage Canadians to take on more debt, stimulate housing demand, and possibly push up housing prices.

“It’s a different kind of borrowing,” David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said of the CMHC incentive.

And with a home-price limit of around $500,000, the program is unlikely to help middle-class millennials buy homes in Vancouver and Toronto, where average property values are far higher, said TD economist Brain De Pratto.

 

Those taking advantage of the higher HBP limit, on the other hand, would have to keep in mind that the government is not extending the program’s repayment timeline, said Doug Carroll, a tax and financial planning expert at Meridian.

Home buyers must put the money back into their RRSP over 15 years to avoid their HBP withdrawal being added to their taxable income. Now Canadians will have to repay a maximum of $35,000 – instead of $25,000 – over the same period, Carroll noted.

In general, the economists and financial experts Global News spoke to saw the budget as being focused on demand-side housing measures, rather than policies that would encourage the construction of new homes.

And while the budget does earmark $10 billion over nine years for new rental homes, it does not propose major tax breaks for homebuilders.

Tax incentives proved to be an effective way to stimulate residential construction in the past, said Don Carson, tax partner at MNP.

“They really drove supply,” he said.

Source: Global News –

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Condo Nation

Condos reign supreme in Canada’s hottest cities. The majority of first-time homebuyers in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are picking condos, in part due to affordability challenges with single-family detached residential homes. Here are the numbers behind Canada’s condo explosion.

Source: Genworth.ca

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Condo or house: What’s right for you?

Do you want a condo or house? As a first-time homebuyer, this question is probably the first you’ll answer before starting your home hunt. Budget is a large factor, as is region: condos are king in urban markets like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, while houses are the go-to in Calgary and on the East Coast. Want to know what’s right for you? Take our “Condo or House?” quiz to shed light on your condo or house dilemma.

Condo or House?

Answer each question below, noting which answer you picked. Use our answer key and tally up your points to find out what’s better for you: condo or house.

Question 1: Can you afford to spend $500,000 or more on your first home?

  1. a) Yes.
  2. b) No.

Question 2: Do you work from home?

  1. a) Yes, most or all of the time.
  2. b) No.
  3. c) I may occasionally bring light work home.

Question 3: Are members of your household very busy with outside activities, or do you tend to be homebodies?

  1. a) We’re very busy and spend a lot of time outside.
  2. b) Most of our hobbies are home based.
  3. c) It’s a mix in our household.

Question 4: Do you enjoy outdoor chores like yardwork, gardening and home maintenance?

  1. a) Yes, I love working on my home and garden.
  2. b) No way!
  3. c) I’m not sure, but I’d consider it.

Question 5: Do you like to entertain friends and family in your home?

  1. a) Absolutely! We love hosting big family dinners and dinner parties.
  2. b) Sometimes, but we’re more into parties than sit-down meals.
  3. c) Yes, but we prefer intimate get-togethers, like having a couple of dinner guests over at a time.
  4. d) No, we prefer to host guests in a restaurant.

Question 6: What best describes your household composition?

  1. a) Living solo and loving it!
  2. b) We’re a couple, with no immediate plans for kids.
  3. c) We’re a couple, getting ready to start our family.
  4. d) We’re a full house of four or more, looking for room to grow!

Question 7: Minimalist living: yay or nay?

  1. a) Yay: I am the queen (or king) of clutter-free living!
  2. b) Nope: I like personalizing my space with my objects.

Answer key:

Q1:

If you selected A, add 10 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

December 2017’s national average house price was $614,575. While houses can be had for less, even in big cities like Edmonton, Ottawa and Montreal, those who live in the Greater Vancouver Area or Greater Toronto Area will find that a budget of half a million dollars limits them to condos.

Q2:

If you selected A, add 15 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

If you selected C, add 10 points.

Those who work from home should prioritize home office space; a spare bedroom is ideal. Others can get by with a small computer station or even converting a closet into a tuck-away office.

Q3:

If you selected A, add 15 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

If you selected C, add 10 points.

The more time you spend at home – and the more members of the household that join you – the more home you’ll need for comfort.

Q4:

If you selected A, add 15 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

If you selected C, add 10 points.

Owning a house comes with both seasonal tasks (shovelling snow, gardening, raking leaves, etc.) and weekly chores (taking the trash and recycling to the curb).

Q5:

If you selected A, add 15 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

If you selected C, add 5 points.

If you selected D, add 5 points.

Avid home chefs and entertainers will benefit from a roomy kitchen and an open-plan kitchen/dining/living area. A large backyard would be a perk. Condos needn’t cramp your style if you have smaller get-togethers, or if you host your birthday bash in a party room, the perfect pop-up spot for canapés and mingling.

Q6:

If you selected A, add 5 points.

If you selected B, add 5 points.

If you selected C, add 10 points.

If you selected D, add 15 points.

Although condo living is adaptable, at a certain point a growing family may be bursting at the seams and need more room to roam.

Q7:

If you selected A, add 5 points.

If you selected B, add 10 points.

Decluttering will keep your smaller space looking sharp. While houses also look their best when belongings are edited, they do provide more hiding spots for those things you’ve been meaning to purge (but haven’t gotten around to yet!).

Results:

Tally up your points and find out whether a condo or house is better suited to your lifestyle.

If you scored:

35-55: Confirmed Condo-ista

Between price and lifestyle considerations, urban condo living is ideal for you. You’ll love the convenient, maintenance-free condo lifestyle and, of course, being in the heart of the city’s action.

60-80: Ambivalent Shopper

Aspects of condo living (convenience, price point) hold strong appeal for you, but you’re also considering a house you can grow into. It wouldn’t hurt to explore both options, plus townhouses, which offer a bit of each home type.

85-95: Hard-Core House Hunter

You’re looking to live large in a home that does your lifestyle justice – and you’re willing to pay a premium and put in sweat equity to do it. You’ll love turning your house into a home, with room for the creature comforts you cherish.

 

Source: Genworth.ca

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Kid-friendly condo features

Condo living: it’s not just for young single people anymore. In big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, many millennial parents are choosing to set down roots in vertical communities, raising their kids in the dynamic environment they love. As a result, developers are starting to pay attention to the priorities of this up-and-coming homebuying demographic. Is city living suited to your family’s lifestyle? Here are six features to look for when hunting for a family-friendly condo.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 1: More bedrooms

As recently as 2011, many condo-dwelling families had to rely on design hacks to carve out “bedroom” space in a smaller unit. That’s because during the 2001-11 period, less than one per cent of condos on the Toronto market had three bedrooms; today, for example, one major developer dedicates, on average, about 10 per cent of its new buildings to three-bedroom units, and roughly 40 per cent to two-bedroom units. Similar changes have been afoot in Canada’s other major condo markets. The City of Vancouver mandated in 2016 that all rezoning projects hit a target of 35 per cent “family units,” defined as units with two or more bedrooms. In Montreal, developers are also reaching out to the urban family demographic, with one Habitat Design Award-nominated project incorporating not just three-bedroom but even four-bedroom units. Family-sized condos are now easier to find, which means it is less likely you’ll have to use bookcases and curtains to fake out an extra bedroom.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 2: Better storage

A tiny hall closet just won’t do when you’ve got strollers, trikes and other gear to stash. If you’ve got a growing family, maximum closet capacity is key. One way developers max out storage space is to design smaller bedrooms; that’s a small sacrifice to make if it makes getting in and out of your unit easier each day.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 3: Indoor play zones

Just as the party room is a grown-up condo mainstay, indoor kids’ rooms are becoming hot tickets in family-oriented condo developments. With activity-friendly flooring, furniture and play stations, these indoor play centres are the perfect spot to hang out during a rainy morning or to meet up when you think your home is too messy for a play date!

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 4: Outdoor play areas

Many planned communities include parks and playgrounds in their adjacent outdoor space. Other kid-pleasing features include gardens, fountains, splash pads and pathways where kids can bike, in-line skate and play safe from car traffic. Who says you can’t have your own backyard if you live in a highrise?

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 5: Parking

If moving your brood around includes four wheels, you’ll be looking for a parking spot. Parking is a hot commodity, and many big-city condo buildings have significantly fewer parking spots than they do units. Keep in mind that a parking spot isn’t just a one-time purchase; it’s subject to additional monthly maintenance fees. If you’re an occasional driver, check the building’s proximity to a car share location. Avid cyclist? Look for a building with a secure bike room to avoid condo clutter and cut the risk of bike theft outdoors.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 6: Location, location, location

One of the perks of urban living is proximity to work and big-city attractions. There’s something appealing about walking to the museum on a Saturday morning, or picking your kids up at daycare after work and leisurely strolling to a nice restaurant for dinner. Consider walkability and access to public transit when condo shopping. Trimming your commute and streamlining your day makes family life less stressful and way more fun.

Source: HomeOwnership.ca

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BALTIMORE MAY SELL HOMES FOR $1 TO REVIVE NEGLECTED NEIGHBORHOODS

In order to revitalize distressed neighborhoods in Maryland, councilmembers and local community advocates are pushing for a government program that would sell thousands of vacant buildings in Baltimore for $1 each. In turn, buyers would have to promise to refurbish and live in the properties for a certain period of time.

 

Baltimore

 

According to a bill adopted by the Baltimore City Council last month, the program would revitalize “marginal neighborhoods by matching construction ability at the grass roots of Baltimore to production of affordable housing for workers’ families and neighbors.” The idea is modeled after the 1973 “Dollar House” program, which sold rundown, city-owned houses for $1 and helped rebuild ravaged neighborhoods in the city throughout the 1980s. The original program also granted buyers low-interest loans to rehabilitate the properties as long as they lived in the homes for a certain amount of time.

Now, advocates want to restore the program to curb the city’s blight epidemic and prevent more homes from becoming vacant. The program would also create construction jobs, say advocates.

On the other hand, the housing commissioner argues that the program is outdated and that there is not enough government funding to address the estimated 16,000 to 46,000 vacant homes in Baltimore, reports The Baltimore Sun. That’s triple the amount in the ’80s. Plus, about 250,000 fewer people live in the city compared to when the program first started.

Nonetheless, real estate agent and affordable housing specialist Mable Ivory applauded the idea, arguing that city governments have implemented similar programs to revitalize distressed areas in Detroit and Harlem. “It has been proven that when home ownership increased among residents in neighborhoods like Harlem and Detroit, which were once plagued by urban blight and flight, crime declined and the communities became more beautiful as owners took pride in their neighborhoods and took better care of them,” she said in an email. “Baltimore seeks to mirror the success that has been experienced in Harlem and Detroit by creating a similar, discount homeownership program.”

Whether interested in buying a vacant property in Baltimore or purchasing an affordable home elsewhere, Ivory advises potential purchasers to “do their due diligence and research” before taking on the cost of homeownership. “If possible, before bidding on the properties, homeowners should do a property inspection with licensed professionals, such as contractors, architects, and engineers, to have a clear and full understanding of all the repairs needed to make the home inhabitable; the cost of the repairs; as well as the time it will take to complete the entire renovation. The good news is that there are mortgage loan programs available like the FHA 203(k) mortgage loan program, which provide financing for the total renovation of a home.”

Selena Hill   

by April 13, 2018 Editor’s Note: This post originally published on December 27, 2017

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For people of color, banks are shutting the door to homeownership

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

MODERN-DAY REDLINING

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

“I had a fair amount of savings and still had so much trouble just left and right,” said Rachelle Faroul, a 33-year-old black woman who was rejected twice by lenders when she tried to buy a brick row house close to Malcolm X Park in Philadelphia, where Reveal found African Americans were 2.7 times as likely as whites to be denied a conventional mortgage.

The analysis – independently reviewed and confirmed by The Associated Press – showed black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, Reveal found all four groups were significantly more likely to be denied a home loan than whites.

“It’s not acceptable from the standpoint of what we want as a nation: to make sure that everyone shares in economic prosperity,” said Thomas Curry, who served as America’s top bank regulator, the comptroller of the currency, from 2012 until he stepped down in May.

Yet Curry’s agency was part of the problem, deeming 99 percent of banks satisfactory or outstanding based on inspections administered under the Community Reinvestment Act, a 40-year-old law designed to reverse rampant redlining. And the Justice Department has sued only a handful of financial institutions for failing to lend to people of color in the decade since the housing bust. Curry argued that the law shares part of the blame; it needs to be updated and strengthened.

“The Community Reinvestment Act has aged a lot in 40 years,” he said.

Since Curry departed nine months ago, the Trump administration has gone the other way, weakening the standards banks must meet to pass a Community Reinvestment Act exam. During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the Justice Department did not sue a single lender for racial discrimination.

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust. It is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.

This gap has far-reaching consequences. In the United States, “wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group. “For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity.”

The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median net worth for an African American family is $9,000, compared with $132,000 for a white family. Latino families did not fare much better at $12,000.

What lenders keep secret

Lenders and their trade organizations do not dispute the fact that they turn away people of color at rates far greater than whites. But they maintain that the disparity can be explained by factors the industry has fought to keep hidden, including the prospective borrowers’ credit history and overall debt-to-income ratio. They singled out the three-digit credit score – which banks use to determine whether a borrower is likely to repay a loan – as especially important in lending decisions.

“While quite informative regarding the state of the lending market,” the records analyzed by Reveal do “not include sufficient data to make a determination regarding fair lending,” the Mortgage Bankers Association’s chief economist, Mike Fratantoni, said in a statement.

The American Bankers Association said the lack of federal enforcement proves discrimination is not rampant, and individual lenders told Reveal that they had hired outside auditing firms, which found they treated loan applicants fairly regardless of race.

KEPT OUT

“We are committed to fair lending and continually review our compliance programs to ensure that all loan applicants are receiving fair treatment,” Boston-based Santander Bank said in a statement.

New Jersey-based TD Bank, which denied a higher proportion of black and Latino applicants than any other major lender, said it “makes credit decisions based on each customer’s credit profile, not on factors such as race or ethnicity.”

Reveal’s analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant’s income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant’s income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.

Credit score was not included because that information is not publicly available. That’s because lenders have deflected attempts to force them to report that data to the government, arguing it would not be useful in identifying discrimination.  

In an April policy paper, the American Bankers Association said reporting credit scores would be expensive and “cloud any focus” the disclosure law has in identifying discrimination. America’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., has argued that the data should remain closed off even to academics, citing privacy concerns.

At the same time, studies have found proprietary credit score algorithms to have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.

The “decades-old credit scoring model” currently used “does not take into account consumer data on rent, utility, and cell phone bill payments,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wrote in August, when he unveiled a bill to require the federal government to vet credit standards used for residential mortgages. “This exclusion disproportionately hurts African-Americans, Latinos, and young people who are otherwise creditworthy.”

A case study: Philadelphia

Philadelphia was one of the largest cities in America where African Americans were disproportionately turned away when they tried to buy a home. About the same number of African Americans and non-Hispanic whites live in the City of Brotherly Love, but the data showed whites received 10 times as many conventional mortgage loans in 2015 and 2016.

Banks also focused on serving the white parts of town, placing nearly three-quarters of their branches in white-majority neighborhoods. Reveal’s analysis also showed that the greater the number of African Americans or Latinos in a neighborhood, the more likely a loan application would be denied there – even after accounting for income and other factors.

When Faroul applied for a loan in April 2016, she thought she was an ideal candidate. She holds a degree from Northwestern University, had a good credit score and estimates she was making $60,000 a year while teaching computer programming as a contractor for Rutgers University. Still, her initial loan application was denied by Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors, an independent broker that made nearly 90 percent of its loans to whites in 2015 and 2016.

“I’m sorry,” broker Angela Tobin wrote to Faroul in an email. Faroul’s contract income wasn’t consistent enough, she said. So Faroul got a full-time job at the University of Pennsylvania managing a million-dollar grant.

But that still wasn’t enough. When she tried again a year later, this time at Santander Bank, a Spanish firm with U.S. headquarters in Boston, the process dragged on for months. Her loan officer kept asking for new information, she said – or sometimes the same information again.

By this time, Faroul had been trying to get a mortgage for over a year, and the process itself was damaging her credit. Every time a lender pulls a hard inquiry on a credit report, the score goes down to guard against people who are trying to take on a lot of debt.

“They had done so many hard pulls that my credit score had dropped to 635,” she said.

Then, an unpaid $284 electric bill appeared on Faroul’s credit report. It was for an apartment she didn’t live in anymore. She paid the bill right away, but the bank said it couldn’t move forward.

Civil rights groups and real estate professionals said Faroul’s experience follows a familiar pattern of discrimination by banks and mortgage lenders that has kept people of color from building wealth.

“It’s one thing after another. It’s like pulling layers off an onion,” said Arlene Wayns-Thomas, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which represents African American real estate professionals.

Wayns-Thomas, who has been selling real estate for 30 years, said her black clients are treated differently by lenders.

“They may not like what happened between the last time you were working on this particular job to this one. They may see there was a gap,” she said. “I have seen situations where they’ve asked people for the children’s birth records.”

“The things that happen behind the scenes is what’s disturbing,” she said.

A change of tune from lenders

For Faroul, things suddenly took a turn for the better after her partner, Hanako Franz, agreed to sign on to her loan application. At the time, Franz – who is half white, half Japanese – was working part time for a grocery store. Her most recent pay stub showed she was making $144.65 every two weeks. Faroul was paying for her health insurance.

The loan officer had “completely stopped answering Rachelle’s phone calls, just ignored all of them,” said Franz, 32. “And then I called, and he answered almost immediately. And is so friendly.”

A few weeks later, the couple got the loan from Santander and bought a three-bedroom fixer-upper. But Faroul remains bitter.

“It was humiliating,” she said. “I was made to feel like nothing that I was contributing was of value, like I didn’t matter.”

Contacted by Reveal, the lenders defended their records. Tobin, who turned down Faroul on her first application, said race played no role in the rejection.

“That’s not what happened,” she said and abruptly hung up. A statementfollowed from Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors’ chief operating officer, Jill Quinn.

“We treat every applicant equally,” the statement said, “and promote homeownership throughout our entire lending area.”

Faroul’s loan officer at Santander, Dennis McNichol, referred Reveal to the company’s public affairs wing, which issued a statement: “While we are sympathetic with her situation, … we are confident that the loan application was managed fairly.”

Reveal’s analysis of lending data shows that nationally, Santander turned away African American homebuyers at nearly three times the rate of white ones. The company did not address that disparity in its statement but said it was more likely to grant a loan application from an African American borrower than five of its competitors.

Redlining history repeating

Lending patterns in Philadelphia today resemble redlining maps drawn across the country by government officials in the 1930s, when lending discrimination was legal.

Back then, surveyors with the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drew lines on maps and colored some neighborhoods red, deeming them “hazardous” for bank lending. Leading causes of risk, according to government officials, included the presence of African Americans or immigrants.

This practice has been outlawed for half a century. And for the last 40 years, banks have had a legal obligation under the Community Reinvestment Act to solicit clients – borrowers and depositors – from all segments of their communities.

But in many places, the law hasn’t made much difference. When you combine home purchase loans, refinancing and home equity lines of credit, banks were more likely to deny a conventional loan application than grant it in more than 40 percent of Philadelphia. People of color were the majority in nearly all those neighborhoods.

“You’re killing us here,” said Cindy Bass, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, who worked for a mortgage company before entering politics. The data shows banks have frozen out borrowers in much of her district – including Nicetown, a North Philadelphia neighborhood where boarded-up row houses dot the landscape.

“We need dollars. We need investment,” Bass said, “like every neighborhood needs investment.”

Nicetown is among the neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s. In his assessment, government surveyor W.R. Hutzel said the hazardous neighborhood had some positives, including “new industry – good transportation” and a high school. On the other hand, he wrote, it had a “heavy concentration of negro.”

Today, the economic recovery largely has bypassed Nicetown. Blight is a major concern. Some of the vacant homes, empty for years, have attracted squatters. Although it’s just a few blocks from Temple University Hospital, banks and mortgage brokers largely stay away. Lenders have been particularly stingy when it comes to home improvement loans. From 2012 to 2016, they made 67 home improvement loans here and denied 315.

“It creates this cycle where properties fall into dilapidation for a long period of time,” said contractor Eric Marsh Sr., 48, whose family has lived in Nicetown for three generations.

Marsh started his own construction business “because I saw dilapidation and empty houses,” he said, and wanted to help. But because banks rarely lend here, there’s no capital to improve the neighborhood. So Marsh gets most of his jobs in more affluent sections near the center of town.

“I was wondering why people weren’t purchasing these houses or renovating them,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older and talked to people, I’ve found out that a big part of it is the lack of lending in neighborhoods like this.”

‘It’s like a glass ceiling’

It’s not only historically redlined areas that suffer from a lack of credit. Some neighborhoods that were predominantly African American decades ago have since gentrified and are now majority white. Today, they benefit from a large number of home mortgages from banks.

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Other neighborhoods that experienced white flight after World War II have become home to a substantial black middle class. And in those neighborhoods, banks are more likely to turn away borrowers.

Four miles from Nicetown, toward the suburbs near the Awbury Arboretum, the homes of Germantown are set back from the street behind garden patios and beautiful stone facades.

This area wasn’t redlined in the 1930s. Government officials colored it green – “the best” – and blue, which meant “still desirable,” and told banks to lend here. Back then, most residents of Germantown were white.

Today, this part of Philadelphia is majority African American, and the homes are occupied by middle-class workers – teachers, nurses and union craftsmen. Yet in every year from 2012 to 2016, banks denied more conventional loans of all types than they made in Germantown.

“It’s like a glass ceiling,” said Angela McIver, CEO of the Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania. “OK, we’ll allow you to go this far, but … you’re not going to go any further.”

 Source: RevealNews.org – By  and  / February 15, 2018
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