July 22, 2010

Borrowing while pregnant?

A New York Times story about lenders leery of extending mortgages to couples expecting a baby has created such a furor, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development weighed in last night to declare that it's launching "multiple investigations."

Turning a prospective borrower down for a loan based on the current usage status of her womb is illegal, HUD says.

"Lenders have every right to ascertain the incomes of families to determine whether they are eligible for a mortgage loan but they have no right to use a pregnancy or a short-term disability as a cause to deny that family a mortgage they would otherwise qualify for," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement. "Having a child should be a time for a family to celebrate and must not be a cause for unfair lending practices."

Lenders offering mortgages insured by FHA, the Federal Housing Administration, can't ask about future maternity leave. "If a borrower is on maternity or short-term disability leave at the time of closing, lenders must document the borrower's intent to return to work, that the borrower has the right to return to work, and that the borrower qualifies for the loan taking into account any reduction of income due to their leave," HUD says.

Some dissenting voices are saying pregnancy ought to be part of the equation.

Continue reading "Borrowing while pregnant?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Fair Housing, Mortgages

January 18, 2010

Fair housing

It seems fitting to talk about fair housing on a day designed to honor Martin Luther King Jr., because the civil-rights activist was acutely aware of the way bricks and mortar could be used to separate people based on race.

On August 5, 1966, he joined marchers protesting against housing segregation in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported that the "mood was ominous" and onlookers threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at the crowd; King was hit by a stone. But in the end, there were results:

The marches led to an accord that year between the protesters and the Chicago Real Estate Board. The board agreed to end its opposition to open-housing laws in exchange for an end to the demonstrations. Before he left town, King said it was "a first step in a 1,000-mile journey."

The federal Fair Housing Act was part of civil-rights legislation passed seven days after King was assassinated. The act, which covers most housing, makes it illegal to refuse to rent or sell to someone based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status -- whether you have children -- or disabilities. Setting different terms or conditions is also not allowed. The act covers mortgage lending, too.

In 2008, the 40th anniversary of the act, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it had received more than 10,000 housing discrimination complaints the previous year. Race was the second-most cited reason. The first? Disabilities.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:18 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Fair Housing

July 26, 2009

What a real estate agent can and can't tell you

Ask a real estate agent about schools, and you might get nothing more than a pained smile and a school-information website or two.

"I list homes in a neighborhood that boasts the highest rated schools in the country and I can't even say it!!!" one Virginia agent wrote on Trulia, in response to a frustrated buyer who wants to know why Realtors won't "answer questions regarding where the best schools are" near Bel Air.

Agents are afraid they're going to get into trouble with the federal Fair Housing Act, that's why. The law aims to stop housing discrimination, including the steering of people to or away from neighborhoods based on factors like race, gender and religion.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, putting agents to the test during the housing boom, filed complaints against real estate companies for allegedly telling white clients -- but not minority clients -- to avoid certain neighborhoods because of the schools.

"'Good schools’ and ‘bad schools’ are the new code words used by some real estate agents to discourage Whites from considering integrated neighborhoods," the alliance said in a 2006 press release.

Such testing -- and federal-complaint-filing -- has not gone unnoticed by agents. When I interviewed Realtors for today's story about the impact of school test scores on such non-classroom matters as home values, there was some squirming over the phone line.

Continue reading "What a real estate agent can and can't tell you" »

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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