“A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun” – Thomas Carlyle
I thought long and hard about whether to publish this. My hope is that it comes across the way it’s intended: as an honest and thoughtful expression of my own experiences and observations of what I see to be one of the greatest examples of modern social deconstruction.
There are no words for the horrendous events that have transpired in Ferguson, Missouri. As a St. Louis native, I am embarrassed for my city on a local and national level, and it’s difficult not to call this an issue of race.
On August 18, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed an order deploying the National Guard to Ferguson, declaring martial law. Generally, the institution of martial law contemplates some use of military force. To a varying extent, depending on the martial law order, government military personnel have the authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws. Certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. And the writ of Habeas Corpus, which allows persons who are unlawfully imprisoned to gain freedom through a court proceeding, may be suspended (Legal Dictionary).
The riots started August 9. By August 18, more than 130 people were arrested and charged with refusal to disperse. This action can be argued many different ways, but the bottom line is that it’s a nonviolent crime. Even now, the protesting is still going on. New numbers have yet to be released, but folks are still being arrested for what can reasonably be called nonviolent crimes. They are essentially being “bagged and tagged” because under martial law, basic civil rights are thrown out the door. In most cases, police aggravation is what sparks reactions out of people who are peacefully protesting. What I mean by this: If one is peacefully protesting with thousands of people marching behind them, a solider (not police officer) asks a moving crowd to stop, it doesn’t happen at the exact moment the request was put in place, the crowd proceeds and the cop is bumped into, that peaceful assembly has now turned into the assault of a military officer under martial law. Assaulting a federal officer is “as per the section whoever forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any person designated as an officer or employee of the U.S. while engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties” (uslegal.com). It will land you one year in prison. If you actually make contact, a maximum of eight years in prison will be recommended. In a crowd of those both peacefully and unjustifiably protesting, intent versus impact is a battle of interpretation.
To clarify, I am not writing to justify any side of the argument. My goal is to shed light on what I see to be the unintended consequences of law enforcement arrests of these protesters and how the repercussions could spark a potential end to the lower middle class.
In previous blog posts, I have mentioned entities such as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). HUD provides assistance to 3.5 million people in need by supplying housing authorities such as the St. Louis Housing Authority with funding to support low-income housing. For example, section 8 vouchers help individuals supplement housing in the private market. These people are low-income families, elderly and the disabled whose income cannot exceed 50 percent of the median income of the area where they want to live. Those who choose to rent instead of buy use section 8 vouchers. Those who choose to buy use the department of HUD’s FHA Loan.
FHA is a faction of HUD created by Congress in 1934. FHA helped finance military housing and homes for returning veterans after WWII. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, FHA sparked the production of millions of units of privately owned apartments for elderly, handicapped and lower income Americans (HUD.Gov) — but let’s call a spade a spade: These are commonly known as the projects. FHA shifted gears once again in the 80s, offering housing to potential borrowers during a recession by providing assurance through home insurance that these loans wouldn’t default. This method is still being used today. FHA has 4.8 million insured, making them the biggest home provider in the world! This is because FHA requires homebuyers to put only 3.5 percent down to buy a home, compared to a conventional mortgage requirement (which isn’t government-backed) of 20 percent down. FHA is one of the best buys for first-time homebuyers. Local housing authorities in the state an individual resides determine how the money is spent. This rule has been deemed federal law, I might add.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 deemed it illegal to discriminate against special protected classes like race, ethnicity, religion, family status, disability and gender orientation. Most everyone can agree that these have been discriminated against for years, and such protection is justifiable. None of these classes should affect one’s ability to own or rent a home. But there is one set of individuals that isn’t recognized as a protected class: the formally incarcerated. In some areas, being arrested alone will disqualify someone with a criminal background from buying or receiving rental vouchers through HUD.
So why aren’t ex-cons or those who have been arrested part of a protected class? Are they not good enough to receive federal funds after serving their time? It’s my understanding that while they are incarcerated, federal funds keep the prison running. I urge readers to look at this from a problematic approach. If you have gone to jail and served your time, aren’t you now a law-abiding citizen? Yes, you broke the law at one point, but that was then and this is now.
The foundation of the American dream is a job and a home to call your own. For a convicted criminal, chances of getting a job starting at $40,000 a year are slim to none. Most likely, an ex-con will be able to get a job that is low wage. However, there are a lot of individuals who have jobs considered to be low wage. FHA and HUD are aware of this; they know not everyone can have their dream jobs for a number of reasons. That’s why FHA and HUD exist, to provide assistance to these individuals and help supplement housing via home ownership or through renting. Not if you are an ex-con, though; no, you don’t have that right anymore. It is already extremely difficult for someone with criminal history to get a job, but now they can’t have a home? Without a job and a place to stay, aren’t they likely to reoffend?
The average amount a first-time homebuyer going through FHA will spend is $120,000. At a 5 percent interest rate with a 30-year term, that mortgage will be $590, not including taxes and insurance. Most homeowners are in their first home for seven years. By that time, the home will have $34,220 in mortgage payments and a mortgage insurance of $119.42 (totaling $6,926.36 over the years), for a grand total of $41,146.36. Currently, it costs $47,102 a year on average to incarcerate an inmate in a state prison in the United States. Which is more expensive: subsidizing living expenses or sending someone to jail?
In Ferguson, 64.7 percent of the population is black, and 29.3 percent is white. That’s a stat you can Google. African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, nearly six times the rate of whites. As I stated previously, it’s hard not to make this an issue of race because when you looked at your televisions, who did you see protesting? The median household income for the city of Ferguson is $37,000. African Americans currently hold the lowest median household income of all races with $30,134. In the 1990 census, residents of Ferguson comprised 73.8 percent white, while those identified as black made up 25.1 percent. By 2010, it was 67.4 percent black and 29.3 percent white. All the while, the population has only decreased by 22,149 in 1960 to 21,111 in 2013. The numbers don’t lie — Ferguson is a prominently black city.
What have the news outlets been saying? Ferguson is a once growing city. How do you stop the growth of a population? You divide and conquer. How do you stop the growth of a man? You incarcerate. What is the predominant stereotype for a black child growing up? He doesn’t have a father at home or his mother is on drugs. Typically, if the father is not home, he has been incarcerated. When he returns to start his life over, what happens? He is denied the ability to create a foundation because without a job, there is no home. Even if there is a job, he can only afford low-income housing. But now, he can be denied that because he isn’t part of a protected class.
How do we accomplish this with the masses? Create a riot and they will come. Institute martial law and we can arrest for anything. I’m not calling for conspiracy — I am sparking thought. Offering federal money to criminals will create opportunities to exploit the system, but I argue housing vouchers keep people out of jail, out of a lifestyle of crime, and they’re cheaper!
The things that have happened in Ferguson are horrible. There are peaceful protesters both black and white who are being arrested and charged with crimes under martial law. Most of these individuals are young adults who will eventually be homebuyers. They will need federal funds to purchase a home and start that foundation. According to the numbers, most of these young adults are African American. It is already tough socioeconomically for African Americans, but by arresting these young adults, law enforcement is deconstructing a once-growing city. This is happening not only in Missouri but also all over our country, and it’s been going on for decades. I cannot and will not sit and watch it happen anymore. I have turned off my TV. For this to be happening in my own city is disheartening.
Currently, New Orleans has the highest population of ex-cons in the nation. The city recognized this, and the New Orleans Housing Authority made ex-cons a protected class. That’s right, the state can make its own protected classes! Just like every other federal law, states have the right to amend. We all remember Hurricane Katrina. How many of those homes destroyed were deemed low-income, impoverished or high-drug, given close to no federal government backing to rebuild, and have now been labeled dead zones? That’s a post for another time.
Stop looking and judging because you are witnessing something huge and it might be hitting close to home. You want to protest? Urge Governor Jay Nixon to make convicted criminals a protected class and protect our city from being a city of social deconstruction.
The Mike Brown episode was tragic and I feel for his family, it will be a story I will for sure tell my kids one day. The facade of America being the greatest country in the world is quickly fading but at what point will the people appointed to protect us realize that.
Thanks for reading,
The Mortgage Story By Victor Brown-Roberson
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