(August 24, 2011) At the time this article was written, Habitat for Humanity was not alone in being alarmed by the findings reported by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon about housing discrimination in the Portland Metro area. Indeed, the results of the FHC’s most recent round of testing were widely reported in The Oregonian, Willamette Week and other publications. However, a recent audit by the Bureau of Labor and Industries determined that FHC’s audit methods were subject to errors that invalidate the results.

“We have concluded the audit is not reliable,” Commissioner Nick Fish told the Willamette Week. “There have been failures of communication and breakdowns of protocol. The test they gave us has been demonstrated to be something we cannot rely on.”

As a result, the Portland Housing Bureau has not renewed FHC’s contract. However, Moloy Good, Executive Director of FHC, stands by the report. Although there is anecdotal evidence of some level of housing discrimination locally, Habitat is uncertain at this point whether or not the data reported by FHC and shared by Habitat in its newsletter is valid.

Below is Habitat’s unchanged article written prior to these findings.

(May 31, 2011) Habitat for Humanity is committed to the vision that every person deserves an affordable and decent place to live. While Habitat selects qualified applicants without consideration for race, ethnicity or other factors, our program levels the social and economic playing field for some groups that have been historically disenfranchised.

A low rate of homeownership among people of color has been one particularly entrenched disparity. A City of Portland study on this issue in 2004 showed that the homeownership rate for Whites in 2000 was 59%, while the rate for African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos averaged 34%.

A look at local history shows that decades of exclusionary practices led to this situation. Until 1927, the Oregon Constitution barred African-Americans from living in Oregon. Redlining practices prohibited African-Americans from buying homes in the city limits when many arrived to work in the shipyards during World War II. Specific codes forbade homes sales to all people of color in white neighborhoods. In the North Williams neighborhood in Portland, incomplete development efforts in the 1960s backfired and depopulated an area that was once 80% African-American.

Some overt discriminatory practices have disappeared, but despite the enactment of the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968, people can still experience discriminatory renting and lending practices. A 2008 Oregon Center for Public Policy study showed that people of color in Oregon were twice as likely to get a subprime loan as Whites with the same income. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon found during a test in Beaverton in 2009 that 75% of African-American and 50% of Latino test applicants were treated differently than Whites. In addition, homeownership has been out of reach for many families of color since their earnings are lower, on average, compared to Whites. It will take concerted, long-term efforts to reverse the minority homeownership gap.

Habitat’s selection process is open and inclusive, going far beyond simply complying with the Fair Housing Act. Since technology and language barriers can exclude otherwise qualified applicants, we have been aggressive at outreach and building relationships, to ensure that the applicant pool reflects our community’s diversity. Even though Habitat approves partner families without considering race or ethnicity, currently about 80% of the homes we build each year are sold to people of color.

Among our active mortgages, 145 are homes located in north and northeast Portland, many in historically African-American neighborhoods. Our work is helping preserve that legacy: the Rivergate Commons project in north Portland will soon sell 12 homes, eight of these to families of color. Of these eight, seven families are currently residents in north or northeast Portland.

Habitat builds and sells homes each year to people of any race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religious preference, ability or disability, family composition or sexual orientation. As Portland and Gresham continue to grow, Habitat is helping create a rich tapestry of diverse neighborhoods. It is our firm belief that this adds to the quality of life for all of us.

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