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5 Unsophisticated Buyers The problem is that we have been putting families into homes who have no sense of responsibility of homeownership and that is where the problem has been, and that is the intrinsic problem in the program. Is that not true? . . . We found welfare mothers whose sole income was aid for dependent children, plus other benefits that come from that status in life, and they were put in housing, presumably as owners and yet, they could not even fix a faucet washer. Have we concluded there are some people who should not be put in the status of home purchasers? Can we not conclude that there are some people who do not have the sense of responsibility or the economic income to own a home? —Representative Ben Blackburn (R–GA) The trickle of informationabout poor housing insured by the FHA and HUD slowly swelled into a deluge of troubling news as journalists in Philadelphia and Chicago published exposés of the homeownership programs in their respective cities. Stories of corruption and collusion between the FHA, real estate speculators, and shady bankers became front-­page fodder, creating a crescendo of turmoil for HUD. The agency had become the focal point of intense news coverage , but there was a developing subtext. The news was also concerned with the recipients of this government assistance, a disproportionate number of whom were poor and working-­ class Black women who had bought deteriorating or deeply damaged housing with the backing of the federal government. As the heat of the spotlight intensified, so too did the search for a culprit or responsible party to blame. The media, elected officials, and HUD agency representatives identified a cluster of issues to explain the strife in the urban housing market. Congressional 168 Unsophisticated Buyers inquiries, tinged by political partisanship, had questioned staffing levels, poor appraising techniques, poor attitudes throughout the FHA, and generally the poor management of the housing programs discussed in Chapter 4. Within HUD, officials including Romney emphasized a different set of issues . Romney lamented the legislation that had ended redlining and created homeowning opportunities in the nation’s cities. He publicly questioned poor women’s homemaking skills and described them as “unsophisticated.” As the investigations into the housing scandals expanded, it was discovered that the improprieties extended far beyond Section 235 of the Housing Act. There were two additional sections of the Housing Act that allowed for an even broader contingent of potential homeowners. Section 223(e) allowed for FHA insurance to be made available in older sections of cities that had previously been described as “riot prone.” Section 237 of the Housing Act was even more far reaching in authorizing mortgage insurance for poor families that did not qualify under regular FHA programs because of poor credit histories or inconsistent income, but whom the secretary of HUD could deem to be a “reasonably satisfactory” credit risk and capable of homeownership with the “assistance of budget, debt management and related counseling provided by the Secretary.”1 Section 237 opened the doors of homeownership to poor families on welfare, including women receiving Aid to Dependent Children (ADC). Despite the legislative mandate that Section 237 provided, budget and debt management and “related counseling” were never integrated into the services offered by HUD because they never received appropriations from Congress. As investigations began to hone in on availability of counseling as a factor in the crises pervading the homeownership programs, the issues of persisting racial discrimination and the structural inadequacies of the urban housing market were pushed to the margins of the investigations. Moreover, the focus on counseling lent itself to intrusive inquiries into the suitability of families on welfare as homeowners as the behavior and domesticity of Black women became a central issue in the function of the low-­ income homeownership programs. While their exact rate of participation is unknown because of HUD-­FHA’s reluctance to collect racial or gender data for its programs at the time, thousands of Black women who purchased homes through HUD’s programs became the focal point of congressional and media inquiries. These women were portrayed as unsophisticated and domestically dysfunctional, evidenced by alleged difficulty with the simple maintenance of their homes. These portrayals of poor and working-­ class Black women, especially those receiving public assistance, Unsophisticated Buyers 169 presumed knowledge about their lifestyles and habits. These perceptions or ideas had formed over time and were certainly influenced by the caustic debates concerning the character of Black women receiving welfare...


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MARC Record
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