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Archive for July 15th, 2006

Bigots

Imagine that you are a single income household. After years of renting, you and your spouse decide to buy a home. You get pre approved for a mortgage, find a home, make an offer, negotiate a deal, pay for a home inspection, pay for an appraisal, and then you get a peculiar call from the lender. Your loan has been denied. The reason? If you die, your spouse, currently a student, won’t be able to pay the mortgage. Could this happen? No, not a world where equal housing opportunity is the law of the land.

UNLESS…you are buying a co op. Co ops, you see, are the last bastion of Jim Crow in housing. How can this be? Because co op owners do not actually own the land or structure, but are instead shareholders in a private corporation, co op boards use their application process as a fig leaf to circumvent fair housing laws. Co op boards can determine what minimum down payment you’ll need, whether you can rent or use the unit as a 2nd home, and even make you pay extra for things like the use of an air conditioner. Does requiring a minimum down payment of 20% exclude otherwise qualified members of minority groups? Is the Pope German? Many boards still require an interview, where they can literally manipulate the complexion of who gets to live in the building.

Back to my opening scenario. I have clients, let’s call them Nick and Mortimer, who are going to their co op interview this week. A board member who has reviewed their application mentioned to Nick that Mortimer’s financials were  on the light side and told him that he would be asked what would happen should he die, since Mort clearly was not qualified to fly on his own. Nick, a first time home buyer, wondered aloud why this would be an issue; he has a more than ample life insurance policy with Mort as the beneficiary, and Mort earns his Masters this August and will enter the work world this autumn. Well, he was told, they will probably ask that question on the 17th. When I first heard from Nick that he should expect this question, I asked aloud if Ward Cleaver would ever be denied housing because June was a housewife. I think we all know that the answer is "no."

I dislike legislating special rights for some, and I dislike it when people play the victim card. However, I really abhor a double standard where the bar is arbitrarily raised for someone who is a little different. And if you are going to hide behind the small print of the law to be a bigot, I might just publish your name and company right here. And I might not stop there.

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