New Programs Aim to Change Vermont’s Dismal BIPOC Homeownership Rates

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Owning a home has many financial benefits and is crucial for building wealth to pass down to future generations. But discriminatory practices have long kept BIPOC people from buying. Today's historically tight housing market — where supply is low, cash is king and interest rates are climbing — is creating even more barriers.

Jess Hyman, associate director of housing advocacy programs at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity in Burlington, said bias is insidious in property transactions. Renters can face discrimination when applying for a lease, but home buying has many more steps where bias can creep in — from property appraisals that have historically undervalued Black-owned homes to real estate agents steering people of color toward specific neighborhoods. Discriminatory lending has been scrutinized in other states, but Vermont data show that, in 2020 anyway, mortgage approval rates were nearly equal between white applicants and people of color.

In a tight housing market, would-be buyers sometimes send sellers "love letters" that describe why they're the best fit for the home. But that practice can invite discrimination, Hyman said.

"The more a [seller] sees about the people who might be interested in their home," she said, "the more they can make decisions that might be explicitly racist ... [or feed] into implicit bias that they don't even know they have."