Justice Department launches program to keep redlining out of Kansas

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TOPEKA — A new program in Kansas backed by the U.S. Department of Justice aims to identify and snuff the illegal practice of denying a creditworthy applicant a loan for housing in certain neighborhoods.

Lenders engage in the illegal practice of redlining by discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. The new initiative will partner the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas to investigate and ensure fair lending practices.

Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said a federally backed program could help Kansas prevent a common practice in cities across the country.

“Thinking about metropolitan areas and as well as rural areas throughout Kansas and how minority populations have been dealt with in this state on a whole range of issues, it wouldn’t be a surprise that redlining would be an issue here as well,” Brett said.

The program tasks U.S. attorneys to ensure that fair lending practices are informed by local expertise and expand investigations of potential instances of redlining beyond traditional banks. The program will work to strengthen partnerships with financial regulatory agencies and coordination with the attorney general.

During the New Deal era, redlining was institutionalized by the federal government and then implemented by private lenders. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 attempted to cut back on these discriminatory practices, but they continue to be implemented by some lenders today.

The negative effects have been lasting and can be seen in the large gap in homeownership rates between white and Black families, which is greater today than it was before the passage of the housing act.

“Lending discrimination runs counter to fundamental promises of our economic system,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. “When people are denied credit simply because of their race or national origin, their ability to share in our nation’s prosperity is all but eliminated.”

Of the 16 housing discrimination complaints filed with the Kansas Human Rights Commission since July 1, 2020, none alleged redlining. Stakeholders hope this new effort ensures that number stays at zero.

“This initiative is important to our community, and we stand ready to work with community stakeholders and the Civil Rights Division to investigate allegations of redlining and, when appropriate, hold those accountable who participate in illegal redlining practices,” said Acting U.S. attorney for Kansas Duston Slinkard.

People are encouraged to report any lending discrimination to the Justice Department.

Housing inequalities were among the topics discussed this year by the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. Shannon Portillo, co-chairwoman of the panel, said the partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s office and the DOJ was a welcome development.

“The practice of redlining not only had a profound impact on how neighborhoods grew in the mid-20th century, it continues to shape the distribution of wealth and resources in our communities,” Portillo said. “We are hopeful that this initiative will produce positive results for Kansas communities.”

Other housing advocates are looking elsewhere to make a difference. Vince Munoz, a housing justice organizer at Rent Zero Kansas, said his focus was on mutual aid collective action and efforts to change the current state law, which favors landlords at the expense of tenants.

“Without knowing the intricate details of what any litigation would look like, it’s good that the federal government is making these efforts, but collective action among tenants will always be needed to create a truly equitable housing system,” Munoz said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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