Take away $45,000 in down payment assistance from a city-run, state-funded program and LaTasha Massey doesn’t own her $180,000 home on Whispering Meadow Drive in Iowa City.

LaTasha Massey waters flowers in her front yard on Wednesday, September, 11, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. Massey moved in to the house last December participating in a city-run, state-funded program providing down payment assistance to potential home buyers who meet income guidelines.
Credit: Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9

Mortgage payments would have been too much without the 25 percent down payment from the program, which forgives the assistance after five years if the recipient lives in the home during that entire time.

“It was huge,” Massey said about owning a home. “It had a lot of implications for our life.”

Since buying the home, Massey, an African American woman in her 30s with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Iowa and a job as community projects specialist for Johnson County, has gotten engaged.

Home ownership is taken for granted as the default standard of living for many Iowans. But black and Latino homeownership rates have dropped since 1960, an analysis of census data shows.

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Credit: Jaime Vargas/IowaWatch

Three of every 10 black Iowans owned a house in 2010, that data showed. Three of  every six of the state’s Latinos owned one. Three of every four white Iowans owned a home in 2010.

Black Iowans’ homeownership rates have fallen dramatically since 1960, when 56 percent owned a home. The Latino homeownership rate in Iowa has dropped only 2 percentage points since 1960 but has fluctuated from a peak of 65 percent in 1970 to a low of 47 percent in 2000. White home ownership has gone up slightly from 69 percent in 1960 to the 74 percent recorded in 2010.


Minority homeownership rates have fluctuated far more in Iowa over the last 50 years than they have nationally. National percentages for blacks and Latinos mostly stayed in the low to mid-40s for most of that time.

Poor financial situations, the lack of stable jobs and personal choices, but also the impact of discrimination in some cases prevent many black and Latino Iowans from becoming homeowners, interviews the past four months for the special project, Iowa’s Opportunity Gap, revealed.

IowaWatch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, led that project, examining racial achievement inequality in the state in a collaboration with The Gazette in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, The Hawk Eye in Burlington, The Messenger in Fort Dodge and the West Liberty Index. U.S. Census Bureau data from 1960-2010 revealing opportunity disparities among whites, blacks and Latinos were provided to IowaWatch by the Colorado-based public service journalism organization I-News.

Massey, a graduate of Iowa City High School, said owning a home gives her stability. She no longer has to worry about finding a new place to live every time her lease is up.

That means not having to endure, as she said she did, being told by potential landlords that they don’t take Section 8, or being asked how many children she has. She suspects the questions were based on presumptions about her because she is black.

Now, she are her fiancé are building equity in her home. If something happens to her mother, she said, she knows she can bring her mother to the house. Plus, she owns something new. “The only dirt in this house is mine and the contractor’s,” she said.

LaTasha Massey stands on the porch of her home on Wednesday, September, 11, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. Massey moved in to the house last December participating in a city-run, state-funded program providing down payment assistance to potential home buyers who meet income guidelines.
Credit: Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9

Yet, there’s the stigma of living in southeast Iowa City, an area of town that in the past has had a reputation for crime. Census data also show the neighborhoods there have a higher percentage of minority residents than elsewhere in the city. Massey still sometimes gets denied for pizza delivery.


High mobility and lack of permanent work are strong factors preventing Latino homeownership in Sioux City, in western Iowa, said Major Von R. Vandiver, commanding officer of the Salvation Army of Siouxland.

“Work tends to be episodic,” Vandiver said. “When it’s summer time around here, they can do a lot of jobs. But when winter comes there are fewer labor jobs.”

The eastern Iowa town of Columbus Junction, with 1,900 residents, is home to about 900 Latinos but families come and go as they seek jobs at the Tyson Foods meat packing plant.

But some steadiness exists in town, too. Columbus Junction’s Latinos live at every level of homeownership: owners, renters and landlords, Mallory Smith, the city’s community development center director, said.

A new immigration group is getting jobs at Tyson – Chin Burmese people. Smith said an estimated 400 Chin Burmese immigrants have moved into Columbus Junction the past few years.

Many of the Chin Burmese residents are refugees, and with no credit or banking history so buying a home is difficult. “There’s a little bit of lag on moving from renters to homeowners,” Smith said.


In nearby West Liberty, two of every three of the town’s 1,921 Latino residents lived when the 2010 census was taken in a home that someone in the household had purchased.

Jose Duran, a 20-year resident of West Liberty who works at Tyson’s Columbus Junction plant, said he does not see Latinos who are qualified to buy a house encountering problems doing so in town.

“Many times, it depends on the person,” Duran said, “because if you don’t have good credit or if you have problems you can’t buy a house.”

Duran added, “If everyone thought about this, it would be easier.”

Despite that, West Liberty City Council member Jose Zacarias said many immigrants don’t want to let go of the idea that they someday will return to their home country, making them less likely to buy a home in the United States.

Joe Zacarias, West Liberty City Council

“I say, ‘no, there is nothing moving economically in your country’,” Zacarias said. “The jobs are here, you’re already legalized, you are going to stay here so the next good move you can do is to buy a house.”

“Buying a house, you are now officially part of the community. You are invested in the community because your kid is now going to a school system here. And it’s in your best interest to follow, with you going to ESL (English as a second language courses) at night at one of those churches that offer free-of-charge courses.”

Responsibility comes with a decision as big as buying a house, and the language barrier between Spanish speaking buyers and English speaking lenders can create problems. Lena Avila Robison, president of Latinos Unidos of Iowa in Des Moines, said Latino homebuyers sometimes unwittingly enter deals that set them up for failure.

Some of the fault goes to the buyer but plenty also goes to sellers who take advantage of the situation, she said. It happens, for example, when buying a house from an individual or company on contract, said Robison, a former Iowa Civil Rights Commission investigator who now heads the nonprofit Latinos Unidos that provides support services to the state’s Latinos.

“These contracts are set up on balloon payments,” Robison said. “A lot of individuals do not understand what balloon payments are even if you’re an educated person, because I’ve been trapped in those before and I didn’t know it. But it’s because I didn’t educate myself.”

Robison said lending institutions that have hired bilingual officers have been helpful for Latinos buying a home.


Charles Clayton, executive director, AFES, Fort Dodge

Charles Clayton, executive director of Athletics for Education and Success (AFES) in Fort Dodge, said narrowing the gap in homeownership is complicated. Traditions developed through the years that were based on race at one time have become today’s norms, even though overt racism has diminished, he suggested.

For example, he said, white homeowners start looking to sell and get out before losing equity if a growing group of minorities move into their predominantly white neighborhood.

“To me, it’s racism disguised as poverty versus wealth,” Clayton said.

“It doesn’t have to be an overt thing. If someone moves out of their neighborhood because minorities move in, because they know two of the other families may also be thinking the same thing – it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re racist. It might mean they’re smart business people. But racism drives it.”

The solution Clayton suggests is not much different from what is offered by others who say they want to narrow opportunity gaps for minorities in Iowa. The conversation must include race, he said.

“There is a way out,” Clayton said, “but you have to get people to sit down on all sides, not only the racial side but on the money side, the business side, the banking side of this, the education side, and first talk about race.

“Everybody wants to be colorblind now and not talk about race. We’re not going to get past this until we talk about it.”

Lauren Mills of IowaWatch contributed to this story.


Blacks, Latinos Falling Behind When It Comes To Opportunities In Iowa

Black and Latino Rising Poverty Rates, Dropping Median Pay Are Strongly Linked

Graduation rates for black, Latino Iowans not keeping up in the last half century

Moves In Iowa Are Aimed At Reducing The State’s Black Imprisonment Rate

Commentary: Iowa Needs Problem Solvers To Narrow Opportunity Gaps

I-News analysis by Burt Hubbard. Read the I-News special report on Colorado that produced the data IowaWatch used for this story:  Losing Ground: An I-News Special Project

I-News is the public service journalism arm of Rocky Mountain PBS. For more I-News stories, please go to http://www.inewsnetwork.org/.
I-News and IowaWatch are members of the Investigative News Network, which includes more than 80 nonprofit news organizations.

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