They had small means and big hopes of owning a house. But African-Americans snared in the US mortgage crisis have seen the American dream turn into a nightmare many call “financial apartheid.”
The storm triggered by risky “subprime” loans has left many in ruins, forced out of their modest homes and furious at falling victim to financial dealings that have taken a particular toll on minority families.
“People of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans,” concluded the organization United for a Fair Economy in a recent report which estimated that minorities have seen between 163 billion and 278 billion dollars of their equity go up in smoke since 2000.
With its weakened economy and a large black population more used to renting, Cleveland has become a poster child of the subprime crisis in a country where some 2.1 million borrowers are behind on their mortgage payments.
City officials estimate that foreclosures have swallowed some 70,000 homes and turned entire neighborhoods into ghost towns.
The city has responded by suing lenders, accusing them of targeting black borrowers and steering them to the loans granted with few formalities and at hefty interest rates to people with poor credit histories.
“When the wave of foreclosures blighted our neighborhood, members of our community rang the alarm. Nobody did anything. Now that white suburbs are hit, the city hall discovered foreclosures,” [a Mount Pleasant resident] said.
Nikita Bailey, an activist with the non-profit Center for Responsible Lending, warned that the mortgage crisis could empty the pockets of African-Americans.
“Today the subprime market is poised to bring about the greatest drain of wealth the African-American community has ever experienced,” Bailey told AFP. “It is a financial apartheid no doubt about it.”
In the hardest-hit suburb of Cleveland, “nearly 24,000 people have lost their homes to Cleveland’s Katrina,” [Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Phillip Morris] told AFP.
“They wrecked our American dreams, the willingness to own a home,” he said. “Even during the Great Depression we did not see the number of homes and properties abandoned like we are seeing now.”