Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The gospel of minority homeownership, 2004

Remember the Bush Administration's minority homeownership drive? It began formally with a June 2002 challenge from President Bush to add 5.5 million new minority homeowners by 2010. In the following five years, HUD Secretaries Mel Martinez and Alphonso Jackson, especially Secretary Jackson, made frequent homeownership promotion appearances. They reported progress toward the 5.5 million goal publicly and frequently until the bottom fell out, and for a while even after it did. President Bush did some of the same. In 2004 he was photographed in this old-time revival meeting tableau at a construction training center in Phoenix.

There's a sadly symbolic aspect to the relationship between then-President Bush and his immensely more thoughtful friend who he appointed Secretary of HUD. Call it the difference between a cynical opportunist on one hand, and, on the other, a figure driven by honorable motives to enter painful compromises with open eyes. Possibly this kind of alliance explains a lot of the housing boom.

I don't know what G.W. Bush believes or believed about anything, but I suspect him of not caring deeply about housing.

On the other hand, Secretary Jackson gave every sign of believing throughout his term at HUD that advancing homeownership meant advancing civil rights. In 2007 he wrote a passionate editorial linking homeownership to economic and legal equality, by way of the honorable scars he personally carries from Sheriff Clark's police dogs at the Pettus Bridge. His text admitted frankly that African Americans who did buy homes were often being pressured into accepting unfair terms, but it expressed persistent hope that all could be made better through housing counseling and other forms of HUD participation.

Secretary Jackson left HUD in a scandal, but even knowing the extent of that scandal pretty well, I don't like to judge him. He fought battles starting from honorable motives. He made complex accommodations to a funny old world. Don't we all.

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