Through the examination of land use in a given area, local government can locate areas of large urban cities where homelessness and poverty are high, and can thus develop assistance programs in areas that require such assistance (Ahn, 6). For example, areas that have high populations but little affordable housing can be identified, in order for funds to be appropriated to those areas, as needed.
Impact of Racism on Housing Accessibility
In spite of federal and local housing assistance, the number of homeless individuals in the U.S. shows clearly there are still issues in the public and private housing markets. One such issue of particular concern for the Mexican-American community is that of racism. Racism affects the quality of housing available, the rates for housing, access to education, and even the backing sector.
First, racism affects the quality of housing within any given area. According to one study, current practices of sanctioned zoning and land use discrimination are well documented forms of discrimination against Mexican-American individuals. Public housing sites and tenant selection policies have served to confine Chicano/a individuals to segregated areas of inferior housing (Stocker, 58). These areas are often known as slum housing. These housing choices often have physical defects, such as holes in the floor and walls, broken plaster and peeling paint, electrical wiring problems, and other areas where major repair is needed. The neighborhoods are often low-income areas with little employment, high crime, high substance abuse, few social services, and low educational opportunities (Camarillo, 106).
In a study in 1995, researchers found that Mexican-Americans have become an overwhelmingly urban population, and experience many of the social pathologies of this urban life, including slum neighborhoods. In fact, inner city Chicano/a individuals reported the highest level of housing discrimination. Further, these same individuals reported higher crime levels, environmental hazards, and poor living conditions than all other ethnic groups (Camarillo, 107).
In addition to substandard housing conditions, Mexican-Americans often face discrimination in housing costs and other aspects. In a nationwide study conducted by HUD, Chicano populations were found to be the only group whose discrimination has not diminished since 1989. When visiting real estate offices, Chicanos were found to receive less information and less favorable treatment in comparison to white or African-American consumers. Chicano renters were also found to receive unfavorable treatment by landlords in twenty five percent of cases (Turner, 9).
In terms of pricing, the study found that Chicano renters were treated significantly differently than other ethnic groups. Non-Chicano white renters were found to receive more favorable rate quotes in thirteen percent of cases, and in twelve percent of cases, Chicano renters were charged a higher fee for application costs. Further, Chicano renters were found to pay higher security deposits in fifteen percent of cases, and were found to have their security deposits not returned in forty percent of cases, compared to ten percent for non-Chicano white tenants (Turner, 44).
Still further, Mexican-Americans were shown to receive differential treatment in applying and obtaining mortgage loans, as well. In thirteen percent of cases, these individuals received less information from banking officials than non-Chicano white individuals. Further, in twenty two percent of cases, Chicano applicants received fewer mortgage point reductions, and paid higher mortgage payments than other ethnic groups (Turner, 101).
Incentives for Owners to Provide Low Income Assistance
In an effort to assist low income individuals, including the Chicano community, federal and local governments are beginning to offer incentives in the private sector for individuals to participate in federal assistance programs. One such incentive is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. This credit, applied directly to the federal tax due as opposed to as a line item deduction, is given to investors who put forth funds to build or rehabilitate housing for low income individuals. The tax credit is taken over a ten-year period, and is generally calculated at nine percent per year. Thus, an investor will receive ninety percent of their investment back in tax credits over a ten-year period, plus gain the rental income from the units themselves (Tyson, 112). Such an incentive is a major source of the available low income housing today.
Some local governments have created further incentives for low income housing development. Community Housing programs often require developers in the area to set aside ten percent of their new developments for low income residents. These units are then sold at or below eighty percent of the area median income. This helps to offset current problems with neighborhood income groups, which are often used to determine if an individual is able to obtain a mortgage. These groups are an average income calculation based on area home buyers, but is often skewed due to high income buyers. By forcing developers to set aside housing for the lower income residents, these groups are made more equal (Tyson, 116). Other cities provide Fee Reduction programs as incentive to develop low income housing. These programs offer up to a seventy five percent reduction in construction fees to the private sector if the unit produced is made available to low income renters or buyers (Tyson, 119).
Clearly, there is a lack of affordable housing for all of the residents of the United States. Homelessness is on the rise, as are problems with substance abuse and mental illness, contributing to the population of those who cannot afford housing. Federal assistance programs, such as Section 8, public housing, First Time Buyers programs, and other assistance are in existence but are often difficult to quality for, and may take years to provide the assistance needed. Local programs, such as HOAC and land use acts also have several empirical problems that make them less than ideal for a real increase in affordable housing.
In addition, and of particular concern to the Mexican-American community, racism within the housing market causes grave problems for Chicano renters and home buyers. Discrimination in information production from real estate and mortgage lenders, slum neighborhoods, unequal rates for application fees, security deposits, and rent, and unequal treatment in terms of rental complaints simply create an even more dire set of circumstances in which Mexican-American individuals are unable to locate affordable housing.
There is some hope, however. Federal and local governments are beginning to offer assistance in the form of incentives to increase the overall numbers of available low income housing units. These steps are vital to guarantee affordable housing in the future. However, in order for all members of society to obtain housing, federal and local assistance programs for renters and buyers must improve and, most importantly, the racism present within the housing market must be diminished. In doing so, the United States can provide the equal opportunity for affordable housing all citizens deserve.
Ahn, SoEun. "Historical Trends and Projections of Land Use." National Dept of Agriculture Report 530. Washington, D.C.: National Forest Service (2003): 5-15.