The Business Case for Diversity Leaves Little Room for Our Hearts and Minds

Common Dreams
By Danielle Beavers

Narratives are critical to building movements. They provide the “why” that helps us understand issues and take action to right wrongs. For Black Lives Matter, “the why” is combating the anti-Blackness that leads to death at the hands of cops. For the #MeToo movement, it’s ending sexual harassment and assault.

I’ve written before on why we must rethink and reclaim racial diversity’s “why” for it to become a vehicle for justice. Our movement needs to develop a new, more compelling frame.

While “the business case” for diversity—the argument that diverse groups are more efficient and good for a company’s bottom line—may be true, it’s uninspiring. I say this with some humility, since my own organization has made this argument in the past. Sure, we’ve seen the needle move in some spaces, but the truth is it hasn’t compelled America’s major institutions to make the changes our people need. It’s time to evolve.

The business case for diversity keeps the focus, the “why,” on corporations and institutions. In this dynamic, efforts to diversify the workforce serve organizational efficiency, not people of color. Yes, diversity has real advantages to corporations, and it does make business sense. What’s problematic is historically marginalized people having to make the case for our humanity. Despite an increase in educational attainment and the impending demographic revolution, we continue to be redlined out of the job market and the racial wealth gap continues to widen. Diversity’s “why” must always serve people of color, and it must be used to increase our access to jobs and economic opportunity.

True, corporations aren’t legally bound to rectify racial inequities. That’s exactly why the public can’t leave it to them alone or limit ourselves to advocating within the business community’s comfort level. We must be willing to talk about subjects that are uncomfortable, including the business community’s role in tolerating and propagating discrimination.

The business case may want our bodies, but it leaves little room for our hearts and minds.

Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, serves as a great example of this dynamic. The NFL valued him to the tune of  $126 million for winning games, but things quickly changed once he started the #TakeAKnee movement to protest police violence. Eight months after his first demonstration he found himself without a team and continues to be unsigned, despite his high ratings. This is where the difference between diversity and inclusion becomes critical. Diversity speaks to numbers, while inclusion forms culture and how it supports, or doesn’t support, people of a shared identity.

People of color and our allies must be explicit and uncompromising in demanding access to economic opportunity. Civil rights leaders did this by fighting for access to education, the workplace, and contracts. We must reclaim diversity’s radical origins and advance a narrative that first and foremost serves people of color, not businesses. We must use our “why” to fight for policies that hold corporations accountable and change the structures that limit our potential.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “…while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.” Corporations will only be as good as we make them be. We must harness our collective power through relentless, unapologetic activism.

Hiding Your Diversity Data Helps Keep #PhilanthropySoWhite

Glass Pockets
By Orson Aguilar

At this point, it’s no secret: Philanthropy needs to diversify. Diversity, or the lack thereof, has become something of a hot-button issue in recent years. We’ve seen dozens of articles urging foundations to make changes, including a 2016 op-ed co-written by Dr. Robert Ross, Luz Vega-Marquis, and Stephen Heintz entitled, Philanthropic Leadership Shouldn’t Look Like the Country Club Set.

And a handful of foundations have demonstrated what is possible when they make diversity, equity, and inclusion organizational priorities. The California Endowment (TCE), one of the pioneers in these efforts, adopted a 15-part Diversity Plan in 2008, and since that year, TCE has published four “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Audits” to track its own progress. The audit is simple and profound, stating: “By openly reflecting on our progress and challenges related to diversity, equity and inclusion, we hope that the audit fosters a broader culture of continuous improvement where we challenge ourselves to always do better and to advance — for the field, for our staff, and for the communities we ultimately serve.”

And yet, despite this heightened awareness and the concerted efforts of a handful of organizations, diversity and equity in philanthropy as a whole haven’t changed much. The data published by the D5 Coalition suggest that we have seen virtually no increase in the number of people of color who hold staff and leadership positions at foundations, and little increase in the representation of women.

“Making philanthropy more diverse and inclusive should be a top priority for everyone.”

More frustrating is the fact that very few foundations have decided to voluntarily disclose their demographic data since the attempted passage of California’s A.B. 624, proposed legislation that would have required large foundations in the state to collect and disclose demographic data for themselves and for their grantees.

According to a search on, only 10 of the more than 90 foundations publicly committing to working more openly have disclosed both their diversity data and their diversity values policies. The list of 10 foundations includes foundations such as The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation. They should be applauded. Interestingly, more than 40 foundations have stated that they have diversity/values policies, yet most of them fail to disclose their own diversity data.

Making philanthropy more diverse and inclusive should be a top priority for everyone, regardless of whether or not your foundation focuses on supporting communities of color. This isn’t just a numbers game. As Ruth McCambridge reminds us in her recent article for Nonprofit Quarterly, “Lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in philanthropy enlarges the understanding gap between philanthropy and the communities meant to be final beneficiaries.” By not including more people who understand the experiences of communities of color in leadership positions, foundations put extra distance between themselves and these communities and can’t know how best to serve them.

Diana Campoamor and Vikki N. Spruill, veterans in the struggle to diversify philanthropy, jointly wrote in 2016, “Few would argue that there has been too little discussion about making the sector look more like the people it serves. The real challenge has been to set in motion the measures that assure greater diversity throughout the sector.”

“The only way philanthropy will remain relevant is if it evolves along with the communities around it.”

Just as it took #OscarsSoWhite to jolt the Motion Picture Academy into action, will it take #PhilanthropySoWhite taking off on social media to transform this sector? A group of people has championed this issue from within the world of philanthropy for years, and yet progress remains slow. It’s no longer a question of awareness; it’s a question of priorities. Of course, every foundation has its own vision and purpose, but the only way philanthropy will remain relevant is if it evolves along with the communities around it. That means being intentional about hiring more people from diverse backgrounds who can bring much-needed perspectives to the table; tracking the demographics of people who benefit from grant dollars; tracking the demographics of foundation board and staff, and being transparent about all of those numbers.

Why is transparency so important? Because we’ve seen it drive massive change in other fields. Since the California Public Utilities Commission began requiring the companies it regulates to report how much contracting they do with businesses owned by women, people of color and service disabled veterans, these companies’ contracts with diverse businesses went from $2.6 million in 1986 to $8.8 billion in 2016. In philanthropy, transparency can drive the field to build more coalitions of foundations that can hold each other accountable to high standards of transparency and inclusiveness. It can help them learn from the inclusive practices already adopted by some foundations.

Ultimately, it’s going to take a bigger push than anything we’ve seen before to transform the sector. Otherwise, philanthropy will become more and more out of touch with the people it seeks to serve, and it will become increasingly unable to address the needs of a rapidly changing America.

What is perplexing is that large foundations value data and frequently fund social justice efforts to obtain more gender, racial, LGBTQ and ethnic data as positive outcomes of their grants. The fiscal impact on foundations to collect this data about their own operations and grantees would be negligible. Foundations like TCE have demonstrated “the sky didn’t fall” when the data was published, as critics suggested would happen 10 years ago.  Just the opposite: The foundation learned from its data to make better decisions on how to operate.

In an era of greater transparency, and increasing recognition that we are a diverse and multicultural nation, we urge more foundations to take the leap and conduct and share their own diversity and inclusion audits.

Transportation Planning: People First, Not Cars

Capitol Weekly
By Hana Creger and Alvaro Sanchez

If you’ve ever sat in traffic crawling at 5 miles per hour or been late to an appointment because of inadequate public transportation, I don’t need to tell you that transportation represents a constant challenge in California. Too many of those problems stem from a planning process that has consistently failed to put people first. California can do better.

And let’s not kid ourselves about which people are most likely to get left out of transportation planning decisions: Low-income communities of color. Go to almost any major urban area and you’ll see freeways built to whisk drivers from wealthy areas to the airport or downtown business districts, slicing through and disrupting low-income neighborhoods.

People of color breathe disproportionate levels of toxic smog from transportation-related emissions, which contributes to higher rates of asthma, cancer, and other illnesses than their white counterparts. In addition, low-income people—who are disproportionately people of color—spend a greater proportion of their income on transportation costs compared to wealthier people. The poorest 20 percent of Americans spend 40.2 percent of their take home pay on transportation (mostly for private vehicle expenses), while those who make $71,898 and greater only spend 13.1 percent.

Meanwhile, officials keep pushing for new and wider freeways, car-centric bridges and other projects that ultimately just increase traffic and worsen pollution.

Enough. It’s time for California to rethink transportation planning and establish a planning process that puts people first. And that process must clearly and specifically take into account the needs of those whose needs have traditionally been marginalized or ignored altogether, particularly communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. We have some ideas about how to accomplish this.

With the help of a technical advisory committee with multifaceted experience in transportation planning and environmental justice, The Greenlining Institute has put together a Mobility Equity Framework that lays out a new path.

We propose that transportation planners follow three steps:

1. Conduct a community needs assessment. Start by asking, “What are the most pressing, unmet transportation needs of a particular underserved community?” But don’t just pose that question to a room full of politicians and bureaucrats. Instead, reach out to the community that’s impacted via community meetings, surveys, online forums and other mechanisms, following a process known as participatory budgeting. You don’t have to invent the wheel: A wealth of guides and toolkits can be found in the Participatory Budgeting Project’s Resource Center.

2. Do a Mobility Equity Analysis.
Not all modes of transportation are created equal, particularly in their impact on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. For our Framework, we’ve identified 12 crucial equity indicators. Looking closely at these 12 factors forces planners to consider issues like affordability, reliability, effects on pollution and health, as well as other factors that might lead to particular harm in under-resourced communities. A systematic, community-based review of these factors (which can, of course, be augmented based on individual community needs) can help clarify who benefits and avoid unintended negative impacts

3. Elevate community decision-making power. It’s not enough to make a show of listening to the community but then shut the public out of the actual decision-making process. Public participation throughout the processes of identifying needs, brainstorming project ideas and voting can take place in the form of town halls, community meetings, mail-in ballots, or other formats best suited to the community.

This all may sound rather radical. It’s not. Some agencies have already started putting some of these ideas into practice. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission just became the first transportation funding agency to utilize participatory budgeting, and will now fund pilot projects in disadvantaged communities.

What we propose does represent a major shift away from how California and its cities and counties have traditionally done transportation planning. But look around. Look at the snarled traffic, the overwhelmed public transit systems and stubbornly wretched air quality in so much of our state.

Isn’t it time to try something new?

Ed’s Note: Hana Creger is Environmental Equity Manager and Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Director at The Greenlining Institute.

Will Congress Spark a New Great Recession?

By Orson Aguilar

Four years before the subprime mortgage meltdown devastated the U.S. economy, my organization warned Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan that a deregulated financial sector was hurtling us toward disaster.

The New York Times, in recounting this 2004 meeting, noted that representatives of Greenlining Institute “implored Mr. Greenspan to use his bully pulpit and press for a voluntary code of conduct.” He was not interested.

Astonishingly, similar warnings are being ignored all over again.

After the 2008 crash, Congress passed a series of reforms known as the Dodd-Frank Act. While many of us felt this law should have gone farther, it did put in place a series of common-sense protections designed to curb the “wild west” atmosphere on Wall Street.

In mid-March, the U.S. Senate acted to slash those protections, passing a financial deregulation bill known as S.2115, rightly derided by critics as the “Bank Lobbyist Act.” Among other things, the bill would exempt some truly massive banks—up to $250 billion in assets, big enough to include American Express—from regulatory oversight designed to keep them from driving the economy into a ditch again.

The Senate passed the bill despite a warning from the Congressional Budget Office that it would increase the likelihood of a federal bank bailout and increase the budget deficit.

As in the Great Recession of 2008, the impacts of this policy would likely hitcommunities of color the hardest. A recent investigation by Reveal foundthat banks continue to practice illegal forms of race-based discrimination, a.k.a. redlining, in home mortgage lending. Obtaining home lending data is key to shining light on this bias, and hiding that data is exactly what the banks would prefer.

Because black, Latino and Asian American borrowers were specifically targetedby predatory subprime lenders, Congress beefed up reporting requirements under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, to be effective this year. Increased public reporting of statistics like borrower credit scores, mortgage loan terms and the assessed points and fees would help regulators find patterns of discrimination and stop redlining.

But the Bank Lobbyist Act rolls back these new reporting requirements for banks and credit unions making under 500 home mortgage loans per year—even though lenders still must collect this information for their underwriting files. By allowing banks to hide data they’re already collecting, the bill will make it harder to detect and prevent patterns of discrimination. Effectively, it’s a Redliner’s Bill of Rights.

Now that the Senate bill has passed with a bipartisan majority (sixteen Democrats joined all Republicans in voting “yes”), consideration moves to the House of Representatives. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has indicated he wants to combine the Senate bill with existing House legislation that’s also regarded as dangerous by consumer advocates.

It’s time to sound an alarm. We need to remember what caused the Great Recession, and let Congress know we’ll be watching to see whether it proceeds with this mad experiment in bank deregulation.

California Shows How to Fight Climate Change and Help Underserved Communities

By Emi Wang

Something amazing is happening in California. The Golden State has taken bold steps to act on climate change, including regulations to cut carbon consumption and charging polluters for the carbon that they emit. The money from polluters is placed into a fund called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), where it goes to work promoting the clean energy economy in communities across the state.

Of course, California isn’t the only place to put a price on carbon. A group of northeastern states, as well as Ontario and Quebec, have taken similar action, generally using some form of cap-and-trade mechanism like California.

But California took its effort a step farther, recognizing that poverty and pollution go hand in hand—and that smart policies can help tackle both.

Thanks to the work of the California Climate Equity Coalition, of which my organization the Greenlining Insitute is a part, 35 percent of those resources must be invested in the state’s most polluted and economically disadvantaged communities, communities that have experienced decades of disinvestmentredlining and heavy pollution.

As of 2016, this has meant $419 million invested directly in projects in neighborhoods to help families save money on their energy bills, get solar panels or purchase an electric vehicle. Grants to community groups and local governments help them transform concrete city blocks with tree-lined streets, create community gardens, build permanently affordable housing close to public transit and more.

These investments don’t just reduce carbon emissions. They help ensure that even poor Californians enjoy the savings and health benefits of the clean energy economy, while creating jobs in the communities that need them most. This remarkable achievement can be a model for other states and nations fighting climate change.

What’s not so amazing is that the infrastructure that California has created is enormously complex and hard to understand, even for someone like me whose job it is to track this stuff. And for the everyday renter, community-based group or local city planner, it can be dizzying to try to understand what resources are available to you and your community. So we’re trying to solve that problem.

The Tool: UpLift Resource Finder

These resources can’t help people and communities fight climate change or embrace clean energy if they don’t know about them. That’s why we created the UpLift Resource Finder, to help folks navigate through the complicated world of California Climate Investments. The Resource Finder contains a comprehensive database of over 40 grants and rebates that individuals, families, community-based organizations, schools, municipalities, tribes and businesses can use to act on climate locally.

Whether you’re a community group looking to plant trees or a family wanting to find electric car rebates, the Uplift Resource Finder makes it easier to find out how California’s climate investments can help you. It also has an interesting story for non-Californians. We offer the tool in two views:

  1. Guided Tour: Don’t know where to start? We’ll walk you through four questions to get you to your results.
  2. Full Database: Want to look at the full database? Skip ahead to the full listing and filter your results manually.

We hope that this tool will make it easier for anyone to see what grants and rebates are the best fit, so that all California communities can participate in our fight against climate change. But even if you’re not from California, it’s still worth a look to see all the ways dollars collected from polluters can make life better for people and communities. We’re showing that the fight against climate change isn’t something distant and abstract; it can change lives for the better and make a real difference in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of neglect.

How Money from Polluters Helps Californians

San Francisco Chronicle
By Orson Aguilar

If you follow the news, then you’ve seen repeated arguments about California’s efforts to fight climate change — fights over cap-and-trade, effects on consumers, funding for high-speed rail and more. But there’s a hidden story you may have heard less about.

It’s the story of people like Richmond resident Kendra Tramiel, who got help trading in her old, gas-guzzling clunker for a much more reliable and far less polluting hybrid. It’s a story about the residents of West Gateway Place in West Sacramento — a complex that provides affordable housing for dozens of families and whose energy-saving features and proximity to transit, bike and pedestrian routes are estimated to be equal to taking more than 140,000 cars off the road.

These stories happened because of how California uses the money it collects from polluters for the carbon they put into our air.

All over California, low-income families are getting their homes weatherized, getting help buying an electric or plug-in hybrid car and much more. Communities and local governments receive grants to plant trees and create community gardens, build affordable housing near public transit and replace smoke-belching diesel school buses with clean electric buses, among other benefits — all because of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, powered by cap-and-trade dollars.

Some $614 million has already been put to work on projects benefiting disadvantaged communities, two-thirds of which has gone to projects directly located within those communities — with more added every day.

In a state that combines remarkable wealth and economic vitality with unacceptable levels of poverty and a growing affordability crisis, these smart greenhouse gas reduction expenditures not only clean the air in neighborhoods that need it most, they help address wealth inequality and tackle some of California’s most urgent problems.

Putting affordable homes near transit — like West Gateway Place, the MacArthur Park Apartments in Los Angeles and other projects happening statewide — not only eases our affordable housing crisis, it saves energy and cuts traffic and air pollution while reducing the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide going into our atmosphere. Projects like this make life better for the whole neighborhood and also create good jobs.

California’s approach is unique. While a few places — including a group of northeastern states — have programs in place to put a price on carbon, none has made the sort of concrete commitment that California has made to use the money generated to attack the combined, interwoven problems of poverty and pollution. Our governor and Legislature have actually written it into law that 35 percent of carbon proceeds must benefit disadvantaged communities or low-income Californians. And it’s working.

If there’s one drawback to all this, then it’s that the public has had no easy, convenient place for individuals, local governments or community groups to find out which of these benefits they qualify for. But now they do: Resource Finder lets users answer a few short questions and be directed to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund-funded resources that meet their needs.

Despite fierce opposition from fossil fuel interests, California has mounted a unique and successful effort to simultaneously fight climate change and uplift our most economically stressed and pollution-burdened communities. The nation and world should follow our example.

Orson Aguilar is president of the Greenlining Institute. The Resource Finder is at

Sessions Reboots the Failed War on Drugs

The Progressive
By Orson Aguilar

Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem hell-bent on reviving one of the worst policy failures in U.S. history, the disastrous “War on Drugs.”

As Americans increasingly embrace common-sense reforms—Vermont is in the process of becoming the ninth U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana— the administration wants to waste resources on policies that will worsen the opioid crisis and increase racial disparities.

Trump recently touted the need for tough drug policies, claiming that “very harsh” countries “have much less difficulty” with drugs. The opposite is true. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized possession of drugs, even heroin, so that essentially no one goes to jail for personal possession of small amounts of drugs. The result? Drug use went down, and drug-overdose deaths plunged by about 85 percent.

Portugal shows that when you treat drug abuse as a health problem, you can save lives.

Instead, Trump and Sessions want to double down on policies that have failed for decades. Sessions recently rescinded an Obama administration policy that gave states with legalized marijuana—either for medical reasons or for general adult use—considerable leeway to experiment without federal interference. That will allow federal prosecutors across the country to go after pot possession, distribution and cultivation even in states where it is legal.

It’s hard to imagine what there is to gain from this policy change. In Colorado, which pioneered full marijuana legalization, pot use by teens dropped sharply after the law took effect—perhaps in part because it lets law enforcement focus on preventing drug dealing to minors.

Any increase in marijuana prosecutions will take resources away from truly serious drug problems, like the opioid crisis that now kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. But it’s even worse than that.

Multiple studies have shown marijuana to have pain-relieving properties that may enable reduction in the use of narcotic painkillers. In a 2014 study published by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers compared drug overdose deaths in states with and without legal access to medical marijuana.

“We found there was about a 25 percent lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” said lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber when the report was published.

One more point: The drug war that began more than a century ago is rooted in overt racism, fueled by hysterical stories about “Negro cocaine fiends” and claims that “under marijuana, Mexicans [become] very violent.” Decades later, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” as a pretext to target blacks and antiwar protesters, an aide later admitted.

In practice, anti-drug enforcement has been massively uneven. When the ACLU crunched the numbers a few years ago, it found that, although official surveys consistently find that blacks and whites use marijuana and other drugs at similar rates, blacks are nearly four times as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. The difference in imprisonment is even worse, with African Americans being nearly six times as likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses.

The good news is that Sessions’ recent move on marijuana triggered bipartisan pushback. If the public keeps up pressure on the politicians, sensible policies may yet prevail.

Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute, a national nonprofit group working for racial and economic justice. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Racist Code Talk: After a Year, Trump Is as Bad as We Feared

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts about how Washington in the Trump era had effectively declared war on people of color, albeit mostly hidden under a veil of populism and pretending to stand up for “forgotten Americans.” Now, as year one of the Trump presidency nears its end, we can say with certainty that this administration’s racism is a feature, not a bug – even as the president and his spokespeople continuing to try to hide it by talking in code.

In an era when even Trump, Steve Bannon and their ilk don’t dare say the n-word in public, they still manage to crank their racist dog-whistles up as loud as an air raid siren.

When NFL players kneeled during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans, Trump went on a tirade, tweeting angrily about “the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country” and telling an Alabama rally that “when somebody disrespects our flag,” team owners should “get that son-of-a-bitch off the field now!”

Or course, no one was disrespecting the flag, as Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests, as well as current players who continued them, have made clear. In fact, they specifically chose kneeling because it was respectful.

But none of that matters to a president whose purpose is to arouse and exploit racial hatred. After all, this is the guy who kept stumping for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore even after Moore said America was better off under slavery.

In a Dec. 15 speech to the FBI, Trump again made a big show of deporting members of MS-13, a loose gang network whose threat, in the view of most experts, has been wildly exaggerated, but which may actually be made worse by Trump’s posturing. As with the NFL players, this is a cheap shot aimed at sowing hatred – this time aimed at Latino immigrants.

Of course, sometimes Trump can’t resist an actual racial slur like his repeated references to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” – most recently (and appallingly) at an event honoring the Navajo “code talkers” who literally helped save this country during World War II.

Behind Trump’s thinly veiled racist language we continue to see policies that disproportionately hurt communities of color, communities that still live at the wrong end of America’s growing racial wealth gap. Trump’s FCC is not only killing net neutrality – itself an attack on anyone who’s not a wealthy corporation. It’s also dismantling crucial elements of the Lifeline program that guarantees affordable telephone and broadband services to low income Americans and rolling back protections for those who still depend on the old copper phone networks for voice and internet services.

The administration’s recent move to drastically shrink Bear’s Ears National Monument is, among other things, a direct assault on Native American sacred sites.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Department of Justice has been systematically rolling back civil rights enforcement.

And don’t forget the continuing attacks on Obamacare, which has dramatically shrunk the disproportionately high uninsured rates among African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. One such attack is buried in the just-passed tax bill that will be terrible for Americans of color in a variety of ways. But even without legislation, Trump has done his best to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by cutting the enrollment period in half and slashing funding for advertising and outreach.

But a funny thing happens when you attack people again and again: They start to fight back. Politicians who think they can get ahead by exploiting racial hatred might want to take a long, hard look at the recent Senate race in Alabama, where Black voters turned out in massive numbers and made Doug Jones the first Democratic senator from this deep-red state in a generation.

Race-baiting may have helped get Donald Trump into the White House, but it has already begun to backfire spectacularly. That said, we’re in for a lot more ugliness before this is over.

Are Banks Abandoning Fresno Home Buyers?

The Fresno Bee
By Vedika Ahuja and Tate Hill

If you or someone you know bought a home in Fresno recently, chances are the lender wasn’t a bank. That raises a number of concerns.

Recently, The Greenlining Institute and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition analyzed federal data on California home mortgage lending for 2015, examining statewide figures and looking specifically at lending patterns in Fresno, Oakland and Long Beach. Each city had a different story.

In Fresno, the story might be titled, “The Rise of the Non-Banks.” Surprisingly, nine of Fresno’s top 10 home purchase lenders weren’t banks – a much larger presence of non-banks than in the statewide figures, and a huge difference from 2013 when five of the top 10 lenders in Fresno were banks.

Why does this matter? Traditional financial institutions like banks and credit unions don’t just make loans. They take deposits and offer savings and checking accounts, ATM services, etc. The non-bank lenders writing most of the home purchase and refinance loans in Fresno don’t offer those services.

Just as important, banks holding Fresno residents’ deposits have an obligation to the community under the Community Reinvestment Act, an important law which requires banks to meet the credit and borrowing needs of the communities they serve.

The CRA has brought billions of dollars in investment to underserved communities that financial institutions had largely neglected, including rural communities here in the Valley.

One question our findings raise is, “Where are the banks?” Wells Fargo, California’s top lender, was also Fresno’s leading home purchase lender in 2015. But no other bank – not even giants like Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase – made the top 10.

What’s going on? Many banks, including Bank of America, Bank of the West, and MUFG Union Bank hold substantial deposit shares in the area. However, we see banks pulling out of the home-lending business in Fresno, and also closing branches here. Since 2008, California has lost five percent of its bank branches while Fresno County has lost 15 percent.

That is why we are working with numerous organizations on the San Joaquin Valley Economic Justice Campaign, an effort to hold banks accountable to meeting the credit needs of low-income communities and people of color in the area.

We urge banks to increase affordable home lending to underserved populations and support housing counselors and other local organizations that build the financial health and wealth of Valley communities.

We should also consider how non-banks impact the Fresno community. These non-banks aren’t covered by the Community Reinvestment Act and don’t technically have an obligation to meet the needs of the community. Many of these non-banks are more effective at reaching communities of color than banks, with three such lenders making over half of their Fresno home purchase loans to Latinos.

This could be a good thing, but could also pose a risk, depending on the terms and rates of those loans. From the little research available, non-banks appear to charge slightly higher rates than deposit banks for similarly situated borrowers.

We did not compare rates and terms of loans given by Fresno’s non-bank and bank lenders, but this question definitely needs further research, and will become increasingly important. Immigrant communities, especially those who speak and read only limited English, could be exploited if we’re not careful.

Homeownership remains one of the most crucial ways to build intergenerational wealth. Cities, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations must work together to ensure that communities of color and low-income people throughout the Valley are not left behind as the financial industry evolves.

Vedika Ahuja is Economic Equity Senior Manager at The Greenlining Institute. Tate Hill is Senior Manager of Administration at Access Plus Capital in Fresno and a Greenlining Institute board member.


Trump Seeks to Neuter Financial Watchdog

The Progressive
By Orson Aguilar

The Trump administration would like to make it easier for shady Wall Street firms to rip you off. To this end, it is working to undo one of the smartest things that Congress ever did.

Recognizing that dishonest lending practices led to the 2008 financial crash, Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on such financial sleaze. It wisely designed the CFPB as strong agency with built-in independence from political pressures and big-bucks lobbying.

Now, President Donald Trump has tapped one of the CFPB’s leading opponents to run it, a move that will absolutely harm literally every American who uses money—to the delight of shady subprime lenders, payday loan firms and credit card companies that gouge their customers.

Trump’s pick, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, has called the CFPB “sick, sad” and “the very worst kind of government entity.”As a member of Congress, he co-sponsored legislation to eliminate it. He arrived on the job Nov. 27 with donuts for staff, proclaiming that his charge was to make the agency stop “trampling on capitalism.”

Under just-departed Director Richard Cordray, the CFPB has defended ordinary Americans from rip-offs in mortgages, credit cards, student loans, payday lending and more, securing $12 billion in relief for Americans gouged by shady financial firms. It has forced banks and other financial businesses to make clearer disclosures so that those getting mortgage loans, for example, can actually know what they’re agreeing to.

Before leaving, Cordray appointed his chief of staff, Leandra English, as deputy director. The law that created the CFPB specifies that the deputy director shall act as director in the event of a vacancy at the top, and the law’s legislative history makes it clear that’s exactly what Congress meant. And English unmistakably has the capacity, experience and skills to serve as acting CFPB director and keep the bureau running effectively.

But Trump has instead installed his designated hatchet man as acting director to dismantle consumer protections. English has filed a lawsuit to block this power grab. A federal judge appointed by Trump has refused to block the appointment, but English’s attorney says he is determined to continue the fight.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is some obscure legalistic squabble. It will affect all of us.

The American economy works better when financial markets work to serve, not harm, ordinary Americans. We saw in 2008 what happens when abuses run rampant. The American people, particularly low-income Americans and people of color who have been historically targeted by unscrupulous financial firms, deserve to have their pocketbooks protected by a strong consumer watchdog led by a director who genuinely looks out for regular folks.

That’s precisely what we won’t have if Mick Mulvaney is allowed to run the CFPB despite the legal clouds over his appointment. Watch your wallet.