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Racist Housing Policies Decimated Black Homeownership. Is Change Coming?

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A woman wearing a leopard print top and necklace and earrings smiles while sitting on a red sofa.
Faye Crosley, 80, sits in the living room of her family's Richmond home on Jan. 11, 2023, the day of their scheduled eviction. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

On Saturday, KQED’s weekend team will present a radio special featuring in-depth audio stories, conversations with experts and reporting from Bay Area Juneteenth events. For more, visit kqed.org/reparations.

Wearing gold sequin slippers, Faye Myrette Crosley shuffled into the living room where a bespectacled, Black Santa mannequin stood next to a Christmas tree, one of two in the room.

It was Jan. 6 when Crosley and her grandson, Kevin Hayes, sat on plastic-wrapped furniture for a conversation with KQED that neither really wanted to have: They were facing eviction. Five days later, on a stormy morning, Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputies escorted them out of the home as neighbors and supporters, who were served bagels by Crosley, protested.

Crosley, an 80-year-old Black woman, had lived in the seven-bedroom house in unincorporated Richmond for three decades. Hayes was raised in the house. His mother, who needs special assistance, lived in the home, too. From time to time, so did many of their relatives. The house was the family’s anchor.

A front entrance to a home seen from outside the chainlink fence surrounding it. The front lawn has chairs and other belongings on it.
Furniture and other objects rest outside Faye Crosley’s home of several decades in Richmond, on Feb. 12, 2023. Crosley and her family were evicted in January. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

As I listened to Crosley and Hayes talk about suspicious mortgage lending practices, I began wondering whether the recommendations from the California Reparations Task Force, the first statewide body to examine the historic harms of slavery and anti-Black racism, could provide relief for struggling homeowners like Crosley.

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The task force will deliver policy recommendations to the Legislature at the end of the month. The legacy of housing segregation and discrimination, including the confiscation of property by eminent domain, is featured prominently in the task force’s report.

“This is a book of truth that frames the contributions that African Americans have provided to this country, and also is honest and truthful about the incredibly vast experience of discrimination and racial terror,” Lisa Holder, a task force member, told my colleague for an interview that will air during KQED’s Juneteenth reparations radio special on Saturday. “Until people can understand the origin and the depths of anti-Blackness in this country and the narrative around anti-Blackness that has been a dominant narrative for hundreds of years, they cannot understand the purpose of reparations.”

For more than four decades, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, redlining made it legal to deny affordable mortgages in Black neighborhoods. Decades later, those same neighborhoods were targeted by subprime lenders. The day before Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill that established the task force, he signed a bill that requires counties to identify and purge unlawfully restrictive covenants from property records. The covenants prohibited people of non-white racial and ethnic backgrounds from owning homes in white areas, ensuring racial segregation.

An older Black woman wearing a leopard print shirt goes through papers alongside a man doing the same. Behind the woman dishes are displayed on shelves and next to a nutcracker and other Christmas decorations.
Faye Crosley, 80, and her grandson Kevin Hayes go through legal paperwork at their Richmond home on Jan. 11, 2023, the day of their scheduled eviction. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In 2004, the Black homeownership rate in California peaked at 51%. If you are moderately familiar with American history, unlike the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, you know that Black prosperity in America has always been hijacked.

In the interest of time, we’ll skip over the generational wealth that was created from the unpaid labor of enslaved people and the racial terror their ancestors endured after the federal government abandoned Reconstruction-era policies, and jump to the Black Wall Street massacre in 1921. Three decades later, the targeted destruction of Black communities was deployed to create paths from the suburbs to city centers for white commuters.

As the country marched toward abolishing racial segregation, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 paved the way for transportation projects to plow through areas where Black people flourished. Private property was seized. Homes and businesses in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country were demolished. More than 1 million people were displaced, according to U.S. Department of Transportation estimates.

A half-century after the infrastructure project began, a cyclonic financial crisis engulfed the nation. Guess who paid the price? Crosley was like many Black homeowners in the early 2000s who were targeted with subprime loans and adjustable-rate mortgages. People who refinance their homes with loans that include rising rates and payments are more likely to enter foreclosure. Lured by the initially low interest rates, buyers were unable to keep up payments when the rates escalated.

A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center found that the median net worth of Black households dropped 43% during the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis. It is estimated that 240,000 Black people lost the homes they owned.

Three papers are taped to a white front door to a home. One reads "No Trespassing" in bold. hanging from the door is an ornament of a green frog and a "Welcome" sign.
A ‘No Trespassing’ sign hangs on Faye Crosley’s door in Richmond on Jan. 14, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The struggle to save Crosley’s home began in January 2009 when she defaulted on her loan for the first time, according to public records. In an effort to stay afloat, public records show she refinanced five times through four different lenders from 2001 to 2007. Her loan amount ballooned to double the home’s value. She was underwater.

“This is really when the mortgage crisis really started to get attention, and it started to heat up, and consumers were unable to make their mortgage payments likely because there was an adjustable rate mortgage on the property,” said Verleana Green, an attorney with a specialty in elder law and estate planning.

Green reviewed public records obtained by KQED that show there were 30 deed transfers on Crosley’s home in three decades. Green told us she’d never seen a situation where a loan had been reassigned so many times. She said that when banks assign loans to other banks, it grows into a web of confusion for consumers.

“So by the time this person says, ‘Hey, listen, I want to refinance, I need a loan modification because I can’t make payments,’ she probably didn’t know who to make payments to,” Green said.

In the fall of 2012, long after big banks were bailed out, the lender stopped cashing Crosley’s checks.

“My daughter, she knows all about the computers and stuff, so she knew how to send that money into the computer,” Crosley said. “We could send it to the post office. We’d send it in different ways and they blocked it. They wouldn’t accept no payment.”

Crosley told KQED that the lender offered her a deal — increasing the mortgage from $1,715 to $3,900 — that the retired real estate agent couldn’t afford on the $2,900 per month she receives  from the government to take care of her daughter and alimony.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Black homeownership has declined 15% in the state since 2004. In 2021, California’s Black homeownership rate was 36%, almost 30 points lower than white residents. To put the gulf into perspective, the Black homeownership rate was 42% in the 1960s when it was legal to discriminate against Black homebuyers. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed redlining, but the effects of the discriminatory practice still reverberate.

“Everybody else has been able to sort of move up the ladder, but Black people have not been,” Donald K. Tamaki, a task force member, told my colleague Maria Fernanda Bernal. “They did gain ground in the 2000s. They lost it during the mortgage crisis.”

So will the task force’s proposals keep Black homeowners like Crosley in their homes?

No.

“It does cover things like making loans available, providing more affordable housing,” Tamaki told Bernal. “Dealing with the aftermath of racial zoning and redlining, these proposals that are being submitted [are] simply the beginning of asking the Legislature to do something about the harm that’s been caused.”

The task force is recommending direct financial assistance to increase Black homeownership in the state. In a draft of the final report, the members also recommend collecting data on housing discrimination, providing anti-racism training to workers in the housing field and providing restitution for homes confiscated by eminent domain, among other proposals.

An array of family photos in a picture frame show children wearing halloween costumes, brushing their teeth, dressed in cap and gown and many more -- 14 photos in all.
Photos show several generations of Faye Crosley’s family, at their home in Richmond on Jan. 14, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were visible from the picture windows in Crosley’s living room. Decades of family photos were the first things I noticed after walking through the front door in January.

The polka-dot dress Crosley wore was baggy on her slight frame. She told me that a third of her stomach had been removed when she had stomach cancer. In May 2021, she said, she broke four ribs and punctured a lung in a fall that landed her in the hospital for almost two weeks.

Documents were strewn on a table. Former neighbors, lawyers and paralegals, including one who is known as Tiger Bob, have provided legal advice to Crosley, but all of her attempts to keep the home have repeatedly been dismissed by judges.

A group of people march down a street holding signs and chanting. A visible sign reads "Housing is a human right."
Faye Crosley (center left, in leopard print) walks down Highland Ave. in Richmond with a group of friends, neighbors and family members, including grandson Kevin Hayes (right foreground), to protest her recent eviction from her home of several decades just down the street, on Feb. 12, 2023. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

Hayes, who posted Crosley’s story on Instagram, raised more than $23,000 on GoFundMe. The money was used to pay for legal fees and a storage space and to rent a two-bedroom apartment near the Richmond marina with her daughter. The rent is $2,500 and storage $600.

When Bernal and I visited Crosley in April, she offered us cookies and juice. We noticed that there was space for only a fraction of the pictures and knickknacks that once decorated her home. Her dog is living with Hayes’ sister.

“I didn’t believe that they were going to put me out,” Crosley said.

Hayes said Crosley’s health has declined since being evicted. The home that Crosley purchased for $235,000 in 1992 is now for sale for almost $1 million. Decades of memories are gone, and the equity that could have been passed to her heirs has been erased.

After months of housing instability, Hayes, 31, now lives in a communal space in Oakland.

“I just want her to be happy and I think that the only way that would happen is if she just gets to be back in her house,” he told Bernal. “I think that’s what, like, really breaks me, too. It just hurts so much to know that that pain is there, and that’s what the last section of her life was like.”

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KQED’s Maria Fernanda Bernal contributed reporting.

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