Dr. Raul Hinojosa Ojeda speaks to the city's leaders.

Homeownership, the marker of progress and wealth in the United States, is now proving to be the downfall of African-American and Latino families.

African-Americans and Latinos represent a minority of U.S. homeowners, but bear a disproportionate brunt of the housing foreclosures, according to a study released by the William C. Velasquez Institute, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit policy and research organization based in Texas.

“The inequalities [between people of color and whites] are accelerating rapidly, specifically in terms of housing,” said Dr. Raul Hinojosa Ojeda, as he presented the study to a packed room of community and city leaders at City Hall on Wednesday, among them Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos.

Eric Quezada, executive director of Dolores Street Community Services, said San Francisco’s high number of renters – some 65 percent of the city’s residents and 82 percent of the Mission District’s residents – makes the city a “unique situation.”

While home foreclosures aren’t as rampant here as in other areas, an increasing number of condo foreclosures point to a steady rise.

To attest to the patchwork that is San Francisco’s housing demographic, others pointed to the struggles they’re facing in their particular communities.

Joseph Smooke, executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, pointed to a homeownership rate of 60-70 percent in Bernal Heights and the Excelsior districts, where Ellis Act evictions accounted for the displacement of families during the dot-com boom. Now, home foreclosures are the big threat.

“Foreclosures are the reason why people are struggling,” said Supervisor Avalos, who represents the Excelsior.

Homeownership itself isn’t the only problem.

“The way they get the loans is the problem,” said Alice Guidry, aide to Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, whose district has one of the highest rates of foreclosures in the city and includes Portrero Hill, Bayview Hunters Point, and Visitacion Valley. Most families there are African-American and Latino.

“It’s hard and heartfelt to hear the stories of people who’ve worked hard, who saved their money, and all of a sudden [lost their homes],” said Guidry.

The study presented Wednesday, titled The Continuing Home Foreclosure Tsunami: Disproportionate Impacts on Black and Latino Communities, found that the rates of homeownership for African-Americans and Latinos are still far behind that of whites. Most importantly, African-Americans and Latinos are especially vulnerable to foreclosures because they received most of the high-cost sub prime loans.

To corroborate the study’s findings, Angela Blackwell, executive director for Policy Link, a national research institute based in Oakland, said that according to their research, 55 percent of African-Americans and 46 percent of Latino families were given sub-prime loans, when most actually qualified for regular loans.

“It’s a devastating impact because [homeownership] is the mechanism by which wealth is generated,” said Hinojosa Ojeda, who is the founding director of the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center.

The study found that between 2005 and 2008 an estimated 7.6 million homes have been foreclosed. The states that saw the highest housing expansion – such as California, Nevada, and Florida – are now facing the highest rates of foreclosures. San Francisco was among the metropolitan areas with the highest growth in foreclosure rates between 2007 and 2008.

While the study points to the problem, the purpose of Wednesday’s briefing was to also find ways at the local, state, and national level to ameliorate the disproportionate effects of foreclosures on African-Americans and Latinos.

But with five minutes left and counting – the room had to be vacated for another meeting – solutions had to be hashed out quick.

“The news is that federal policy can be the driver because federal policy has been the driver in terms of getting us into this situation,” said Blackwell, who stressed the importance of including subsidies for renters.

“We must not forget renters,” she said.

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Housing, property, and space in general are prized commodities, especially in San Francisco. Nancy López gets to cover the stories that inevitably grow out of the cracks in the vacant storefronts, aging buildings and limited affordable housing - to name a few of the issues - found throughout the Mission District. She welcomes any story ideas readers may have.

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