February 15, 2020
By John Gamboa and Robert Apodaca
Now that the Governor and Legislature have begun to tackle the housing crisis, it’s time to face a more fundamental problem that could haunt the Latino majority in California for generations to come.
That problem is the dying American Dream of homeownership, which has been the best way for working-class families to build sustaining wealth.
Since the Great Depression, the federal government has recognized this truth with programs for favorable home loans and income tax breaks for homeowners.
But Latinos, African Americans and other minorities were systematically excluded by government policy and private banks.
This created a disparity that, in turn, created the wealth gap.
White homeowners were able to tap their home equity to send children to college and start businesses. Latinos, meanwhile, largely have been consigned to pay rent or offered exorbitant interest rates on conventional home loans.
Then came the 2008 Recession.
It wiped out $177 billion in accumulated wealth among Latinos, who suffered foreclosure rates 240% greater than whites. Since then, Latino households have started to recover. Yet they still own homes at at two-thirds the rate of whites. The result: Latinos have a net worth that is 10 times less.
In California, the problem is worse.
The median price of a California home is now $649,000. It takes an annual household income of $127,000 to qualify for a mortgage. More and more, the American Dream is fading for working-class Latinos.
Unfortunately, state and local governments are not paying attention. Of the more than 800 bills recently introduced in Sacramento to fix the housing crisis, few if any even mentioned homeownership.
With the ambitious goal of adding 3.5 million new housing units in California by 2026, public officials are focused on apartments, which are cheaper and easier to build.
But they must not overlook the need to increase the supply of condominiums, townhouses, and single-family homes. Otherwise, they will be creating a permanent class of lower- and middle-class renters who will be making landlords rich instead of building wealth with a mortgage.
As a coalition of prominent Latino activists and public officials, The Two Hundred has held community conferences across the state to discuss this problem.
We have filed suit to overturn environmental regulations that will make homes even more expensive, further depriving working-class families of homeownership.
And this year, we will be sponsoring legislation to form a legislative task force that will set statewide homeownership goals.
It’s time to recognize homeownership as a civil right. It’s time to give Latinos a fair shot at the American Dream.
Gamboa and Apodaca serve on the leadership council of The Two Hundred.