Commentary

Skin color no basis for home ownership help

by Levar Cole

Say no to H232, the seemingly harmless and well-intentioned BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity bill.

If race-based housing and lending policies are the reason blacks and other minorities don’t own land, why would we think more race-based housing and lending policies are the solution? According to Representative Brian Cina, white supremacy is so “embedded” in “all of the practices and all of the institutions of our society.” In my experience, attempting to undo bad policies by instituting more bad policies is not an effective solution to anything. Study after study show that well intentioned efforts like these do more harm than good especially for the people who are targeted for help.

Nearly a decade ago, I was encouraged to take out a loan intended to increase minority home ownership. Despite grants and credits, these government-promoted loans had so many front-loaded interest and fees, it would have wiped out my entire down payment, and increased our overall costs of purchasing a home. Richard Rothstein wrote about this in his book, “The Color of Law.” He also noted that for decades, government-associated lenders specifically targeted blacks and other minorities for these loans with hidden costs and enticing low down payments. He noted that when the last housing bubble collapsed, minority homeownership rates fell significantly more than whites who also lost their homes. The Washington Post has reported these practices continued even after the latest mortgage lending regulatory reforms.

Proposals like the BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity bill take money from everyone, but more significantly, they disproportionately take financial resources from people who want to buy land, but cannot qualify for the race-based scheme, and give it to a group of people the government deems more deserving. This is not much different from how we got to where we are today: government programs intended to exclude certain groups from land and housing.

We’re told the BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity bill is about repairing harm already done. Okay, but we ignore the new harm we create, not just to non-minorities, but harm to the people the new race-based policy is intended to help. For example, proponents of the bill point to a “sliding scale” qualification scheme for race-based down payments. As with other government programs, minority families juggling multiple careers and work, all while raising children, will likely not qualify for assistance, because their income is “too high.” Minority families who want to own land, but choose to rent, save, and buy land later will probably not make the cut either. And yet, these are the groups who will suffer the most from this proposal after more race-based government financial subsidies increase the costs of land ownership for everyone.

We don’t need more race-based government programs to “empower minority land ownership” by providing money that will obscure the actual and extremely high costs of land ownership in Vermont. Taxes go up, fees increase, farms run losses, and things break. We want our neighbors to own the land, we don’t want the land to own our neighbors. If it’s generally accepted that race-based government intervention is the reason minority land and home ownership is so low in the first place, then let’s stop meddling. Referring to the BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity bill, State Representative Brian Cina said, “As far as I know, there has been nothing like this.” I add, there shouldn’t ever be.

In my experience, attempting to undo bad policies by instituting more bad policies is not an effective solution to anything. Study after study show that well-intentioned efforts like these do more harm than good especially for the people who are targeted for help. – Levar Cole

We should say no to this and other race-based land and housing programs purporting to help blacks and other minorities, and tell governments to stop using race to craft policies that result in some citizens being deemed less deserving or more deserving than others just because of their skin color.

The author, a Chelsea selectboard member, moved to Vermont from the Washington, D.C. area about three years ago, after leaving a career with the federal government. Now farming and homeschooling in Chelsea with his wife and five children, he said in an August, 2020 Journal-Opinion news article that he was drawn to the state by memories of backpacking in the Green Mountains as a college student.

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  1. Excellent commentary by someone with “skin in the game”, both as a Vermont property owner/taxpayer and as a Person of Color. With all the heightened awareness of “social justice” issues and the last year of “mostly peaceful protests”, the Vermont Legislature is in full-on, turbocharged virtue signaling mode, ready to accommodate and lavish their favorite pet victimhood classes. The persistent problem of expensive housing and gentrification in Vermont is a direct result of policies put in place by our party-of-majority. By seeking to remedy it for select groups of people based on actual or perceived race is just plain racism, as insidious as any racism that exists in the private sector. As a (former) journalist at the Governor’s press conferences asked: what will be the criteria for qualifying for such a benefit? Will there be genealogical research necessary or will dark skin be sufficient? Can someone qualify simply by spending enough time at the tanning salon? Do we really want to go down this road where defining the “victimhood” is problematic and subject to potential fraud?
    Thanks, Levar…Vermont may be lacking in numbers of People of Color, but mainly we are lacking in common sense so I hope to see more examples of intelligent and objective commentary from you in the future to help straighten us out.

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