Viewpoint: Wrong to Blame Homeownership

American Banker
By Orson Aguilar and Preeti Vissa

As long as most of us have been alive, owning a home has been a big part of the American Dream. If you ask renters or young people if they hope to own a home one day, the resounding answer will be yes.

These young dreamers might be dismayed at the growing movement to make America a nation of renters. Some conservatives and progressives have suddenly decided it’s time to rethink the ideal of homeownership — and by amazing coincidence, they seem to have had that brainstorm just as Latinos, African-Americans and Asians were beginning to get a piece of the action.
Continue reading “Viewpoint: Wrong to Blame Homeownership”

Viewpoint: Winning Main Street Hearts and Minds

American Banker | Friday, October 24, 2008
By Robert Gnaizda and Jorge Corralejo

Last week the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board decided to save the American banking industry from its follies by partially nationalizing the banks through an infusion of $250 billion of taxpayer funds. Continue reading “Viewpoint: Winning Main Street Hearts and Minds”

Viewpoint: New Financial Values for Bankers and Consumers

American Banker  |  Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By Orson Aguilar and J. Alfred Smith Jr.

A major transformation in banking is revolutionizing America’s approach to financial literacy.

Some financial institutions, to their credit, such as Citigroup, have expended hundreds of millions of dollars each over the last generation in promoting traditional approaches to financial literacy. Continue reading “Viewpoint: New Financial Values for Bankers and Consumers”

Viewpoint: My Crime Was Not Curbing the Guilty

American Banker

By Robert Gnaizda

Many minority leaders concerned about foreclosures and lack of future homeownership opportunities, have asked me, a co-founder and former general counsel of the Greenlining Institute, to respond to charges that it caused the financial crisis by promoting predatory lending practices.

My response is that the accusations against Greenlining are not without some merit, though the facts are a little more complex. For example, the institute unfortunately was far less influential than suggested by the CEO of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo, when he blamed it for his predatory actions.

In 1992, Greenlining sent a letter to Mozilo criticizing Countrywide for finishing last among California financial institutions in making conventional, prime, fixed-rate loans to blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Continue reading “Viewpoint: My Crime Was Not Curbing the Guilty”

Unemployment: Crisis Meets Opportunity

Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

You don’t need me to tell you that unemployment is still a huge problem. The unemployment rate, including long-term unemployment, is still way too high, and Congress keeps deadlocking over small but urgently needed measures like extending unemployment benefits for those struggling to find work.

For young Latino and African American men, it’s even worse. Nationally, Latino men age 20 to 24 have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate, while for young African American men, the rate is over 20 percent. Even as we hear of gradual recovery from the recession, that last figure is very close to Great Depression levels of unemployment.

In that depressing landscape, let me offer a small glimmer of hope. There is a real opportunity to do something about the crisis of unemployment and underemployment among these young men of color, but it won’t happen by itself. We’ll need to take action.

One sector of our economy that is growing rapidly and will continue to grow over the next decade is health care. Between health care reform giving more people access to care and a growing, aging population, we are going to need a lot more health care workers – as many as five million between 2012 and 2022, nearly one-third of the total projected increase in jobs, according to government projections.

When we think of health care, we first think of doctors and nurses, but a huge amount of growth will be in what are called “allied health professions” – folks like radiology technicians and therapy assistants. These are good jobs, often paying $35,000 or more a year, that generally don’t require a college degree.

And it’s critical that this expanding health care workforce be diverse. As millions of Americans who haven’t had access to care come into the system, we’ll need people who can meet them where they are in terms of culture, language and background. The medical system can be daunting, and many people are just more comfortable dealing with providers who look and sound like them. That means better communication and, ultimately, better care.

Right now, the health workforce is pretty diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but not in terms of gender, where females overwhelmingly predominate.

Bingo: crisis meets opportunity. If we can educate and train boys and men of color to fill these new positions, we’ll be doing good for patients, for the health care system overall, and for the communities still plagued by high unemployment.

But, as my colleagues Jordan Medina and Carla Saporta discovered in researching their just-released report, “Pathways Out of Poverty: Boys and Men of Color and Jobs in the Health Sector,” there are serious obstacles in the way. While Jordan and Carla mainly focused on California, most of what they found is relevant across the U.S.

Today, multiple barriers stand between boys and men of color and these health services jobs. Among these are cultural attitudes (for example, the stereotypical assumption that caregiving professions are feminine), lack of investment in primary and secondary education, lack of specific curriculum to help young males prepare for health sector careers, and our dysfunctional justice system.

To address that last one first, study after study has found that our justice system comes down disproportionately hard on young African Americans and Latinos. One recent studyfound that half of all black males have been arrested by age 23. Sadly, this often has little or nothing to do with rates of committing crimes. To pick one easy example, African Americans use marijuana at just about the same rate as whites, but are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for doing so.

What does that have to do with health sector jobs? In many places, blanket background check requirements bar hundreds of thousands from these careers, even when their crime was minor, nonviolent, or very long ago. But there’s a solution at hand: States should align their laws and regulations with federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionrecommendations, which call for this information to be assessed individually rather than being a blanket barrier to employment. We don’t need to destroy the futures of thousands who simply made a mistake in order to protect against the few who actually pose a risk.

But before a young man can apply for a job, he first must obtain the education and training needed to qualify. Around the U.S. we’ve seen cuts in school funding. A few states, including California, have begun to reverse that trend, but it’s not nearly enough.

And to get boys and men of color connected to careers they might not have considered, we need programs that show them the potential of these jobs and that make them interesting and exciting. Here and there you can find excellent examples of school “linked learning” programs that do just that. For example, the Health Tech Academy at Valley High School in Sacramento comprehensively connects students to health careers with a mix of health clinic visits, networking opportunities, and health sciences classes.

Schools need to create more such programs, and – this is crucial — the health care industry needs to support them.

We face a true crisis of unemployment and underemployment among young men of color. There’s a pathway out of that crisis if we choose to take it. Will we?

Uber Should Help Address Issues Facing Oakland

The Post News Group
By Orson Aguilar

Uber is a disruptive force and Oakland is a disruptive city, but for innovation to occur, disruption must be coupled with new and better ways to address the needs of current Oakland residents.

As a new corporate resident of Oakland, UBER should use its core skills and immense resources to help address the critical issues facing Oakland, including affordable housing for residents, quality employment opportunities, business opportunities and affordable transportation options.

Rapidly rising commercial rents Oakland as a result of UBER’s surprise announcement is having tremendous negative impacts on many non-profit organizations that serve Oakland low-income residents.

Low-income residents will feel the impacts of rising housing costs as Uber attracts thousands of jobs to Oakland. UBER is developing a new workforce of drivers with no protections or benefits and who are strangely called “partners”. Those “partners” will join countless Oakland residents who cannot afford to live in Oakland.

That said, we believe that UBER’s appetite for disruption can serve Oakland well, especially if UBER commits to a truly disruptive plan to battle the gentrification UBER is causing.

Given UBER’s immense resources, we call on UBER to commit to the following corporate responsibility practices.

Housing: UBER should make a $100 million investment in an Oakland Affordable Housing Development Fund that provides low-cost capital for non-profits that are working to retain and build affordable housing in Oakland.

UBER can use its immense fundraising power to attract 10 investors to match Uber’s Investment to achieve a $1 billion anti-displacement fund for long-time Oakland resident.

Support Non-Profits Serving Oakland’s Low-Income Communities: UBER should establish free or low-cost and permanent office space to several Oakland non-profits, with a priority on organizations that are working to train tomorrow’s diverse tech leaders.

In addition, UBER should establish long-term partnerships with other area organizations that are training tomorrow’s technology employees. UBER should at least commit to $50 million in philanthropy ($10 million a year) to support Oakland based non-profits, with a priority going to organizations that are helping long-time residents stay and thrive in Oakland.

Employment: UBER should Engage in local hire programs that provide an entry into good paying jobs, career pathways for young women and men of color and establish a comprehensive multi-year plan for internships and other types of job training aimed at young women and men of color.

UBER can be the leader in ban the box policies for all Uber employees and contractors. UBER should provide full-time jobs with full benefits to janitors, security personnel, and other low-wage workers at the Uber complex.

Business: UBER should engage local minority-owned businesses in the construction of downtown campus and suppliers of goods and services to the Oakland and other Bay area office and business sites. UBER will establish a local procurement program that focuses on local and regional women and minority-owned businesses and set goals for doing business with minority-owned businesses.

Diversity: Uber will commit to disclose workforce (non-driver) diversity data within 30 days and release its data within 90 days. UBER will develop a comprehensive plan to further diversify the Uber workforce with community input.

Finally, we recommend that Uber establish a 15-member community advisory board that will meet on a quarterly basis with top executives to review the Community Plan.

We urge Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO to meet with Oakland leaders and conduct a joint announcement of the Plan at a community celebration. Anything less than this will make us wonder why we let the Trojan Horse into Oakland on a red carpet.

Greenlining and the Oakland Post will convene a meeting of Oakland leaders to develop a long-term action plan aimed at holding UBER accountable to Oakland. We hope you will join us.

Uber and Lyft’s Effort to Disrupt Public Transportation Will Hurt the Environment and Screw the Poor

Alternet 
By Hana Creger

Transit-dependent poor communities will be the hardest hit.

A 15-minute Uber ride or a 30-minute transit ride? For affluent city dwellers who increasingly prefer comfort and convenience, this choice is a no-brainer. However, this choice is a privilege that remains out of reach for those who live in transit-dependent low-income communities, who face many barriers to accessing ride-hailing services.

Uber competing with taxis is old news, but many now worry that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft compete with public transit for riders. Not only can ride-hailing service be incredibly convenient, nowadays it can be dirt cheap, increasing the appeal of simply opening the mobile app. This trend may come as no surprise to cities with limited and inefficient transit that are losing their poor, transit-dependent riders in droves to gentrification.

However, a 2017 study shows that even in New York City, Lyft and Uber ridership is increasing, as subway and bus ridership declines. When ride-hailing services threaten even the best public transit network in the country, you know we have a major problem. The graphs below show the changes in ridership by mode from the baseline of the previous year.

This drop in ridership and revenue indicates has made it harder for some cities to invest in public transit. Given this reality, cities may rely more heavily on shared mobility services such as bikesharing, carsharing, luxury commuter shuttles and ride-hailing services to replace public transit trips. Some public transit agencies are already testing this idea, and are providing subsidies to ride-hailing companies as a substitute to transit.

So who will be most harmed by less public transit service? Well, everyone who breathes dirtier air or sits in clogged traffic as transit use declines will be hurt, but transit-dependent low-income communities of color will suffer most. And city leaders can’t just ask these riders to replace their usual bus routes by downloading a ride-hailing app. Lyft and Uber don’t work for all demographics, especially those in rural areas, and those without access to banks or smartphones.

And while ridesharing fares have become cheaper over time, generally they are still much more expensive than public transit. While Lyft and Uber have vague “anti-discrimination” policies on their websites, there are no specific procedures to prevent discriminatory practices such as drivers going offline to avoid requests in lower-income areas.

A study showed that African-Americans faced 30 percent longer wait times and were twice as likely to have their ride cancelled as their white counterparts. Before cities open the floodgates to shared mobility services—Uber and Lyft in particular–they must take smart steps to reduce the harm to transit-dependent communities of color.

San Francisco recently began taking proactive steps to address potential harms of shared mobility services by approving a set of Guiding Principles for Management of Emergence Transportation Services to be used in all decisions and policies relating to these shared mobility options, including ride-hailing, microtransit, bike and carsharing, etc. The principles cover ten categories, including equitable access, sustainability, congestion, fair labor practices, and the need to complement as opposed to competing with transit. This marks a step in the right direction in reigning in the shared mobility industry and ensuring equity and sustainability are meaningful parts of their business models.

While the shared mobility industry can play an important role in our transportation system, it must not be allowed to completely replace biking, walking, and clean public transit. Lyfts and Ubers contribute to congestion and pollution, and failure to regulate them enables the automobile addiction of cities worldwide. A report from New York City shows ridesharing companies have caused a net increase of 600 million vehicle miles traveled, resulting in a 3 to 4 percent upsurge in traffic. Duke University released a report concluding that a single-occupancy vehicle emits 89 pounds of CO2 per 100 passenger miles, while a full bus emits only 14 pounds.

Meanwhile, the rapid growth of electric buses and other clean technologies will only further increase the efficiency of public transit—strengthening the argument that public transit is cleaner and more efficient than Lyfts and Ubers, and therefore should be a top priority in transportation planning. That’s one of the reasons the No Uber Oakland campaign has made working with—and not undermining—public transit one of its demands of the ride-hailing giant.

Greenlining’s Mobility Equity Framework seeks to ensure that the business objectives of shared mobility companies do not eclipse investments in clean forms of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit. Low-income communities of color need greater access to clean, affordable transportation options that serve as connectors to economic opportunity. This framework will prioritize clean transportation options that align with equity and sustainability goals, before hastily rolling out the red carpet for the shared mobility industry.

Truth and Nonsense About Mortgage Lending, the Housing Collapse and Homeownership

Huffington Post
By Preeti Vissa

There may be no subject that has generated more nonsense from politicians and pundits than the subprime mortgage crisis and housing market collapse. Recently, a new book landed on my desk that cuts through the bull and obliterates a pile of widely-propagated falsehoods.
Continue reading “Truth and Nonsense About Mortgage Lending, the Housing Collapse and Homeownership”

Trump’s War On People Of Color Reaches Your Smartphone

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

I’ve written a couple of times about how the policies coming from the Trump administration and the current Congress amount to a war on communities of color. That war has now reached your smartphone – and your computer and any other device you own that’s connected to the internet.

During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules designed to protect your right to access the information you want via the internet, without your internet service provider playing favorites. Without such protections, your ISP could, for example, charge you extra if you do your online shopping with a local small business and less if you shop with the megabusiness that’s part of the same corporate behemoth that owns your ISP. Or it could give its corporate cousin’s online shopping site faster download speeds, while making you sit and wait if you want to process a transaction with that local small business.

Without such protections, which go by the unglamorous name of “net neutrality,” your ISP could pick and choose what sources of information to let you access, and how rapidly and easily you can access them. So a news site that criticizes big tech and telecom companies might get slowed down or blocked, while another that parrots what big telecom wants you to hear gets first-rate service and stays easily accessible.

Who loses in this scenario? Anyone who’s not wealthy and powerful. First on the list will be communities of color and the small businesses rooted in those communities. By and large, people of color have considerably less wealth than white Americans, and the businesses they own are smaller. If net neutrality goes away, they’ll be hit first and hardest. So will activists in our communities, who depend on online organizing.

Trump’s FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, made clear some time ago that he was gunning for net neutrality and other consumer protections. Now he’s moving that effort into high gear, kicking it off with a big speech in Washington, D.C. April 26. In case you doubt who benefits, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has called Trump administration telecommunications and broadband policies “amazing.”

Pai based his argument on an absurd premise. “It’s basic economics,” he said. “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

Really? By that argument, we should never have passed civil rights laws, since more laws and regulations would just cause us to have less civil rights – right? Try that argument on anyone who lived in the Jim Crow south and tell me how they react.

Ah, some will say, but that’s a social issue and this is business. Okay, let’s look at the auto industry, and specifically at auto safety. For decades carmakers paid little attention to safety, and when a halfhearted attempt at adding safety features didn’t juice sales for Ford, the industry concluded, “safety doesn’t sell.”

Then, in 1966, the federal government began adopting mandatory car safety standards. Forced to add safety systems, carmakers figured they might as well promote them, and safety quickly became a selling point – so much so that innovation in things like sophisticated crash-avoidance technology now leaps far ahead of government standards, and car commercials regularly tout safety ratings as a reason to buy a particular model.

We regulated something important to protect consumers and we got more of it – lots more of it.

But this goes way beyond economics, especially for communities of color. As Free Press– with whom our staff at The Greenlining Institute often works on net neutrality issues – put it recently:

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites…

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without net neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without net neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

Everyone (except Big Telecom executives and shareholders, that is) will lose if Trump’s FCC succeeds in shutting down net neutrality, but communities of color will suffer the most. We can’t let that happen.

You can help by doing two things right now. First, file a comment with the FCC at https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom-comments. Second, call your representatives in Congress and tell them you want them to fight to protect net neutrality. If you aren’t sure who represents you, simply call the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. The operator there can direct you to both your Senate and House members.

Tell Congress and the administration you want to preserve a free and open internet.

Trump’s Pardon of Arpaio a Continued Affront to Nation’s Latino Community

San Francisco Examiner
By Paulina Gonzalez, Luis Granados, Bea Stotzer, Guillermo Mayer and Orson Aguilar

On Aug. 25, President Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 to 2016. This pardon is inherently immoral.

This executive action comes on the heels of Trump’s odious statement about recent events in Charlottesville, Va., with him equating counter-protesters, who were touting inclusivity, with armed white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanting hate-filled comments.

What does this pardon and his comments on Charlottesville say about Trump’s views on race? What is his moral compass for the administration? Most importantly, what will we do to ensure that views on race in this country are much more inclusive, harkening back to our country’s aspirational value that all people are created equal?

The now 85-year-old Arpaio was once the self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but he should have been called “America’s Most-Criminal Sheriff” due to his continued enforcement of Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-immigration law even after it was largely stuck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Arpaio actually formed a thousand-strong, racially motivated immigration posse: Citizens were recruited to assist county deputies in frequent workplace raids and illegal traffic stops, even when there was no evidence a crime was, or had been, committed. This was a direct attack on Latinos and immigrants.

These illegal tactics were the catalyst for lawsuits filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU and the Department of Justice.

Despite this background of immoral acts and an egregious flouting of the law, Trump recently called Arpaio “a great American patriot.”

The law and the public disagree.

Arpaio failed in his re-election bid last November, after serving six terms, losing by some 10 points because of the Latino voter turnout. This was a stunning rebuke of the once-popular face of racist, draconian immigration policy.

In July, Arpaio was convicted of a misdemeanor for criminal contempt by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton. The justice wrote, “Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”

This pardon of Arpaio is an insult to Latinos and stands as a stark symbol of the continued assault on the rights of immigrant communities across the land — an assault that has only intensified since Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015.

As organizations that for decades have stood up for the rights of immigrants, we have seen countless stories of Latino newcomers succeeding. They work hard each day. They create businesses and jobs. They send their children to college.

Trump’s views on race forebode and all-the-more uncertain future for all of us who believe in equality, and particularly for people of color in this country.

If you deem these un-American values, we urge you to contact your federal and state political representatives to express concern at the racist tone of the administration. On a local level, please support immigrant-owned businesses. Additionally, always counter the negative discourse by expressing that equality based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is neither a liability nor an outdated concept: It is one of our nation’s greatest values and strengths.