The New Face of Housing Discrimination

Not long after University of Chicago systems administrator Vanessa Matthews, 49, separated from her husband, she experienced grave economic hardship. Not only did she lose her estranged husband's income, which had helped pay the $2,539 mortgage payment on the couple's duplex in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, but her mother -- who was renting the first-floor unit from her -- lost her job and couldn't pay the rent.

"Things had gotten pretty bad," says Matthews, who purchased her home seven years ago with a mortgage amount of about $250,000. "It was unbelievable to me that the banks weren't willing to work with me. I had never been late on my mortgage."

If she lost the house, not only would she have to find a new home -- but her mother and three teenage foster children would have to find a new place to live, too.

Matthews, who is African-American, is not alone. African-American and Latino homeowners have a disproportionate share of foreclosures nationwide compared with their percentage of homeownership, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Responsible Lending.

"Even though African Americans are 9 percent of the nation's homeowners, they make up 26 percent of the clients in the program," says Erin M. Angell Collins, a spokesperson for NeighborWorks America, the Congressionally created nonprofit that runs the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program. Latinos make up 8 percent of the nation's homeowners, a decrease from 11 percent in 2009, but 21 percent of the NFMCP program clients are Hispanic homeowners, Collins says. "They are in all stages of foreclosure or about to enter into foreclosure."

Why is housing discrimination of any kind still happening, and what can be done to prevent it?