The Inside Story of Predatory Land Contracts

New Orleans      A paper by Eric Seymour and Josh Akers in the Cities journal ranked the density of various forms of land contracts that have surged to the forefront in low income areas since the 2008 financial crisis.  This brilliant paper aligns with the work of the ACORN Home Savers Campaign’s findings in the field on the doors.

Seymour and Akers crunched the data correlating where such contracts, REO foreclosures, and race all converged in patterns that leave little room for debate about where predators were feasting with the help of Fannie Mae auctions and other fire sales in lower income, minority neighborhoods.  The highest concentrations were in the in the zone around Detroit from Toledo to Flint and Pontiac.  The second highest was between Cleveland and Youngstown.  Third, was Cincinnati and Dayton.  The fourth finally broke out of the upper Midwest with pockets in St. Louis and Kansas City, but the maps showed it was everywhere.  We had been on the doors in a majority of those cities and could see the faces behind the numbers as people opened their doors.

This is a story writ large over generations.  Reading contemporary memoirs, it is not surprising that if the writer was African-America and came from rough and tumble, hardscrabble beginnings, not infrequently contract home purchases were part of the tale, as much for the predation as their precariousness.

Although Charles Blow has never mentioned it in his New York Times columns, one of the many poignant stories in his memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones (2014) mentions that his mother packed he and his siblings up to flee an abusive situation when he was a child coming up in northern Louisiana.  Underlining how bad it was, he noted that she was leaving a house she had bought on a land contract when it only had one month to go before she would have gotten the title.  I wrote Blow begging him to write a column about this, but there was no response, which also says a lot as well.

A new book, The World According to Fannie Davis:  My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridget Davis is getting a lot of favorable attention.  Davis emphasizes how open her mother was about her business inside her home with her children, and how important it was that all of that be kept secret from the world.  In fact, the driving force for Davis telling her mother’s story is to honor her mother’s commitment and reveal the secret.  Reading the book, one discovers quickly that there was another secret that was equally important, personal, and precarious, like her mother’s illegal business, and that was the fact that they were on a month to month land contract.  In order to escape even more risks and even higher interest and payments, her mother had made a deal with someone she knew with better credit to absorb the land contract and paid him in cash every month.  Bridget Davis is clear it was predatory, and her childhood memories read like fresh scars as she writes about how much they loved the house and the neighborhood, and feared on a monthly basis that because of the land contract they could lose it all and everything they had put into it overnight with no recourse.

The story from the outside about what racial discrimination and exploitative real estate contracts have done to communities around the country is a picture of state-sanctioned evil, but the story from inside looking out from the children’s perspective that is now being told as part of lived experience is also tragic.

***

Please enjoy Patty Griffin’s Where I come From. Thanks to KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bringing Our People to the Graduation Line – Go Pounce!

New Orleans     What is “pounce?”  I actually know, because I’ve spent time over a bunch of years in the downtown campus of Georgia State University.  This blue panther head seems to be everywhere around the sprawling and expanding downtown campus.  Walking from the parking lots up and down the hills in Atlanta near the capitol to the classrooms of the School of Social Work or the cafeteria or the popular Waffle House, I sometimes wonder how many years it will be before the school has grown so large that it will be running programs in the capitol hearing rooms during their recesses.  It might actually be a good thing, because the record of GSU in many areas is becoming a benchmark for others, which is not the same thing many of us can say about the legislative accomplishments in that building.

GSU is getting some recognition for something that is obvious to any of us that have spent time in their classrooms or with their students.  This is a diverse campus where African-Americans are everywhere, not speckled about here and there.  The leadership of GSU is paving the way by doing the “right” thing, rather than the popular thing.  Rather than trying to rejigger their curriculum and scholarships to chase after big, rich state and elite universities, they have focused on how to bring their student population success.  For example, in the last five years, Georgia State University has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans than any other nonprofit college or university in the country.  They have developed programs to bring their students to the finish line, not just run them through the application mill.

It’s not just African-Americans either.  The Hechinger Report in 2016 reported that:

From 2003 to 2015, according to GSU, its graduation rate (finishing a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting) for African-American students rose from 29 to 57 percent. For Hispanic students, it went from 22 to 54 percent. By 2014, for lower-income students (those eligible for a federal Pell grant), it reached 51 percent — nearly the same as for non-Pell students. Its graduation rate for first-generation students went up 32 percent between 2010 and 2014.

 

We’re talking about success across the board on those metrics at a time when we read daily about the hand-wringing of elite and other schools with way more resources bemoaning the fact that they can neither recruit not graduate lower income and minority students even though they keep drinking at the same well and doing the same things over and over.

Luckily, other institutions both here and abroad are studying how GSU is pouncing on this situation.  Maybe they’ll learn something, maybe not.

From my experience I can tell you one thing for certain:  it’s hands’ on.  When ACORN has been involved in several practicums on issues like remittances with undergrads and predatory installment land contracts with graduate students, there’s constant attention and discipline in the professor’s expectations, not just an online grade eval like I receive from some of our other university partners in the US and Canada.  Heck, the professor in our just completed program got out and doorknocked with the student team and showed them some tips on the street.  That’s the kind of involvement that moves students – and the rest of us – to the finish line, as all four of our team got their Masters in Social Work (MSW).  Of course, the professor was Dr. Fred Brooks, former ACORN organizer and canvass director, so who would be surprised, but the fact that he is there on the ground with GSU says something amazing about their program – and accomplishments – as well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail