By Opal Tomashevska, Director, Multicultural Business Strategy, CUNA Mutual Group, and Geoff Cooper, Vice President, Product Development, MGIC
The month of April is National Fair Housing Month. Having a month dedicated to fair housing offers credit unions an opportunity to continue pushing affordable housing and equal opportunity initiatives forward. Homeownership is directly tied to a community’s well-being and helps cultivate wealth for families, making fair housing initiatives perfectly aligned with the mission of the credit union movement.
With the mindset of making intentional change, credit unions can invest further in their communities by helping more people become homeowners and begin building generational wealth.
Actionable steps that can make an impact
In this article, we explore five ways credit union leaders may have a positive impact on fair housing today. They revolve around taking a holistic approach to helping provide equitable opportunities for those looking to purchase or rent.
Often, outreach is the focus for connecting with an individual or community. Equally important in the case of fair housing is the tandem effort of “in-reach,” which involves looking inward to find any obstacles the credit union itself may have established or contributed to. By looking inward, as well as outward, credit unions ingrain themselves more fully in the community’s reality. They understand the barriers to fair housing faced by members and prospective members. With a more well-rounded understanding of the situation, leaders can help address obstacles proactively.
Educating both aspiring homeowners and credit union staff is crucial to the advancement of fair housing initiatives. For example, credit unions may want to train staff to counsel applicants who do not qualify for a home loan on what it will take to get them to a ‘yes.’ Coaching lending teams on how to find creative solutions may enhance their experience as much as the member’s.
It’s also important for credit union teams to understand and acknowledge how discriminatory practices, such redlining and other unfair practices in home appraisal and rental opportunities, have impacted generations of communities. These practices tend to create huge barriers to housing stability and wealth building through homeownership for Black and Brown people. Unfortunately, some of these practices still occur today.
While occasional dips in home values happen from time to time, long-term homeownership has proven to help increase the homeowner’s net worth. That’s why fair housing initiatives should be prioritized by credit unions that serve Black, Hispanic and other historically marginalized communities, where obstacles to homeownership are prevalent.
Beyond taking a second look at a credit union’s lending products, credit union leaders should revisit policies relevant to purchasing homes. It’s not unusual for a lending policy to have remained unchanged since it was put in place. For instance, how might the credit union evolve its loan qualification process for credit invisible consumers? If underwriting is able to check every box except for one, does your policy allow for documented exceptions?
There are several special programs available to credit unions that are designed to help people, including underserved communities, achieve homeownership. The Special Purpose Credit Program, for example, is a provision of the Equal Credit Opportunities Act that helps make loan qualification easier.
The most important piece to the fair housing puzzle is remaining focused on the mission. Purchasing a home is a human endeavor; it can be intimidating and overwhelming. Credit unions that keep the human at the center of their fair housing initiatives may be in the best position to make a difference.
Ultimately, the pursuit of affordable housing through fair housing initiatives is the pursuit of financial well-being. By helping those in underserved communities have access to equitable homeownership and rental opportunities, credit unions help people cultivate wealth for generations of members to come.
The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of CUNA Mutual Group.
CUNA Mutual Group is the marketing name for CUNA Mutual Holding Company, a mutual insurance holding company, its subsidiaries and affiliates. Corporate headquarters are located in Madison, Wis.
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