The More Things Change… When Are We Going to Learn Our Own History?

NPR’s Marketplace reported yesterday about a family in a town in Ohio being victimized by a very pernicious real estate scam. That family is one of many in the area and across the country who lost their homes following the 2008 financial collapse. Unable to get a regular mortgage, they were offered and accepted a “rental to buy” at what seemed reasonable terms. But it turned out there were tens of thousands of dollars in liabilities with the property that they were responsible for,  including 112 building violations and $3,000 a year in taxes. This, despite their being just renters.By TrustTruth

Half of their monthly rent, just $400, is supposed to go toward eventual ownership of the house. But it they fail to make a single payment they will be evicted, with no equity due them no matter how much they have paid in toward the house’s purchase and no reimbursement for any monies they have spent to maintain/restore the property or for taxes paid on it.

This situation is going on all across the country and comports, the NPR report concluded by saying, with the history of redlining practiced by banks in African American and other minority communities.

What the report did not point out is the historical context that would explain why African Americans and others are freely preyed upon this way in 2018.

When low-down-payment, low-interest, low-monthly-payment mortgages became available to working-class Americans under an underwriting arrangement between developers and the Federal Housing Administration set up in the FDR administration in the 1930s, African Americans were deliberately and specifically excluded from those mortgages. Sharks like the ones who are victimizing that family in Ohio and others stepped in back then as well to offer the same kind of rent-to-own arrangements, under the same installment-plan conditions: one missed payment and you’re out, no matter how long you have paid into the property. No chance of selling even at a loss. Nothing.

That the same scam is being perpetrated on the same group of people eighty years later should be a national scandal, not a five-minute story on public-radio. If the FHA and later the Veterans Administration had not excluded African Americans from affordable home ownership over several decades (it only ended, legally, in the 1970s), that family in Ohio and millions more like them would not have found themselves prey to such victimization. African Americans would, over the generations, have been able to amass the kind of home equity that the children and grandchildren of poor European immigrants were able to do. That Ohio family’s situation has deep historical roots that deprived two or more generations of the economic leg-up “whites” were granted, not to mention the job discrimination that accompanied their inability to gain homes of their own on an equal footing. As it is, today African Americans only possess 5% of the wealth whites do, wealth that would have lifted them into the middle-class along with their white working class fellow citizens.


About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on June 29, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Doesn’t it read somewhere, near the top of an important document, that “everybody has the right to strive for happiness”? The blunt truth about this came out over the recent years, and this is just a particularly nasty example of a general phenomenon in the U.S.: a) it’s *not* a right for happiness, but a right to *strive for* happiness. More importantly: b) it’s obvious that those with power can (and do) exert that right *irrespective of who is paying for it*. It seems to me that right from the top of the constitution the U.S. are the most anti-social / asocial society that I have ever heard of. Sad. And broken beyond repair?

    • Indeed. Rolf. It seems the founders of the US assumed that it takes an elite to govern a nation properly, even a republic. Democracy for them meant democracy for that elite, who knew best what was in the good interests of the nation. I think the Constitution was largely a means of reining in those outside this class while affording the means as it turned out, ironically, eventually for a more general enfranchisement.

      Even so, the idea that the majority should be kept in the dark while those in the know (who happen to also be those with the wealth) run things seems to be an idea that has never died, even as the unpropertied, women and others gained the vote. Walter Lippmann wrote an excellent book on the subject back in the early 1920s called Public Opinion, by which he meant why and how it must be manipulated. I say “excellent book” not just because it’s a thoughtful and well-written work but because I think it was brought forth in all sincerity, as is probably the case with many of those who would agree with its premise today.

      Back in the 1960s the Republicans sponsored a study to determine what went wrong with society that it should end up with all those dissenters and anti-establishmenters. The report concluded that “we” had failed to “properly indoctrinate the young.” A decade later the Democrats commissioned a similar study and it came to the same conclusion.

      I take it by “anti-social/a-social” you mean “not communitarian” in spirit. I think you’re right. And yet there has always also been a pull in the opposite direction, nowhere near as socialistic as the one in Europe but there nonetheless. It gains ground here when the nation is under stress — in the depths of a depression when all else has failed, or as an answer to Soviet socialism until the USSR no longer poses an alternative to social-capitalism (socialism for capitalists, real capitalism for everyone else).

      I don’t know that “it” ever worked the way we are told in our history books it was meant to or in fact does. I suspect every society is largely sham employed for the sake of keeping its citizens in the dark. My understanding is the the EU is controlled by a triad that makes it decisions behind closed doors without taking minutes and that the parliament is just a talking shop. But you would know far more about that than I would. Even so, Europe seems to do a much better job of protecting its citizens, ensuring rights, etc. than we do.

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments, Rolf.

      • Hi Thomas,
        my comment may have sounded somewhat elitist, which of course was not the idea. I certainly did not imply that everything is right in the rest of the world, as I see so many things being broken in Europe lately, especially in terms of income / wealth inequality, as well as right-wing politics, etc., and history tells us that things can get much worse, get very wrong indeed. However, one should assume (and I have *some* hope) that these “excursions” are temporary, and that the pendulum will swing back again some day (e.g., in some ares, populist parties now appear to lose votes, presumably, because they—as expected—did not deliver what they promised in their propaganda, or at least, because people start seeing the downsides).
        It’s interesting that you are re-confirming what I meant with anti-social / a-social. Reminds me of one flaw the U.S. has: when people hear “social”, they associate “socialist”, and that again leads to “communist”, a red flag that goes back to the doctrines of McCarthy & Co., which took communism / socialism as the source of all evil and firmly implanted this in people’s mind. In the long run, that’s the worst way of dealing with this (not even a trace of someone trying to figure why communism has emerged in first place [OK, there are exceptions—Noam Chomsky being one of them, and you, too, of course]—everybody is just blinded by the red (!) flag). And don’t get me started about the dreadful consequences that this has had all over the planet, with the U.S. intervening with or sabotaging countless (often democratically elected / established) regimes, in order to restore of keep in place right-wing politics in these countries (and, of course, to protect their own interests, to grow their own economy at the expense of the pople in other countries). To this day, we are so much fighting the consequences that European colonialism has had, and still has, all over the world. The past decades / years tell me that the U.S. hasn’t learned a thing from this, but are rather perpetuating that mechanism far into the future, for decades, if not centuries.

    • Yes, Rolf. “Socialism” is very much a dirty word over here. “Liberal” became almost as much de trop back in the 1980s. The Democratic candidate for president in 1988 refused to apply the word to himself. I suppose that would be the result of what you referred to: McCarthyism and the USSR. Bernie Sanders has called himself a socialist for decades, but he was considered to be beyond the pale from the get-go.

      I’ve been reading Fustel de Coulanges. My impression is that there is a north-south divide in Europe, I mean in deep history, more or less between the olive-oil eaters versus the butter eaters. The Greeks and Romans believed in private property and a degree of individuality. Up north the Germanic peoples were communitarian, shared land in common, etc. I like to think this history accounts for at least some of the social democratic nature of the more northern European nations today, whereas the so-called Anglo-Saxon ones are obsessed with private ownership and individualism.

      Whatever the reason, Americans like to believe they are rugged individualists, though throughout their history they have relied on each other and today treat banks the way Swedes treat a struggling family of four. Go figure.

  2. luella gardiner

    Well done. Even most Americans with attention span of a gnat will get it.

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