Women In Housing-2015

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Th e M Rep o RT | 19 Feature This law protects women against unlawful discrimination in real estate transactions on the basis of sex or family status. While the Fair Housing Act has prohibited discrimination against women for decades, since 2010 HUD has been examining claims that lenders have continued to discriminate against women when making mortgage loan decisions. The HUD investigations disclosed evidence that lenders have refused to approve or refinance mortgage loan applications for pregnant women or women on maternity leave based on the lenders' assumption that the women might not return to work and, thus, might not have income to repay the loans. In addition to making discriminatory statements to or about female mortgage loan applicants who were pregnant or who had recently given birth, HUD disclosed evidence that lenders would not close mortgage loans for women applicants who were on maternity leave until after they returned to work. While some of the allegations involved small banks, many of this country's largest financial institutions have also engaged in pregnancy discrimination. For example, the largest mortgage loan provider in the U.S., Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, recently entered into a $5 million settlement with HUD to resolve claims that it discriminated against women who were pregnant, or had recently given birth and were on maternity leave. In addition to the financial settlement, Wells Fargo agreed to change its underwriting guidelines to clarify how its underwriters will evaluate and process mortgage loan applications from applicants who are on parental leave. As noted above, the gender pay gap increases with age. Female workers are paid approximately 90 percent of what male workers are paid until the age of 35, but the pay gap then starts to spread. One reason lifetime earnings for women lag men's lifetime earnings is because women are more likely to leave the workforce or otherwise interrupt their careers to take care of children. Since childbearing and childrearing by itself have long-term effects on women's income, mortgage discrimination based on pregnancy and maternity leave status is especially pernicious. A Surprising Twist on Gender: Single Women Homeowners O ne somewhat surprising development in home buying mortgages is the rate at which single women are buying homes. Because they have lower overall household income, women who head single-female households have always had lower home- ownership rates than households headed by men. The 2014 homeownership rate for male- headed households was 54.5 percent while the rate for female-headed households was 46.2 percent While women who head households are less likely than men to be homeowners, homeownership rates for single women who live by themselves has been rising. Single women have owned homes at rates that outpace homeownership rates for single men who live alone since the late 1990s. In 2006, just before the housing bubble popped, just over 50 percent of single men in one-person households were homeowners. In contrast, 2006 homeownership rates for single women in one-person households were almost 60 percent. The 2014 homeownership rate for single women has now dropped to 56.6 percent, but continues to exceed the homeownership rate for single male home- owners (49.1 percent). Not only are single women buying more homes than single men, they account for large shares of the total number of homebuyers. For example, more than 20 percent of all homebuyers during the housing boom were single women. Last year, single women accounted for 16 percent of all homebuyers. Trailing only married couples, single women are now the second group that will likely buy homes. While some women (notably pregnant women or new mothers) continue to face discrimination as they attempt to pursue the American Dream of homeownership, single women are not waiting for marriage or children before they become homeowners. An increasing number of single women have decided to pursue homeownership alone, and that trend likely will continue since millenni- als continue to delay (or avoid) both marriage and having children. A. Mechele Dickerson is the Arthur L. Moller Chair in Bankruptcy Law and Practice at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. She is the author of Homeownership and America's Financial Underclass: Flawed Premises, Broken Promises, New Prescriptions (Cambridge 2014). Her current research focuses on income inequality, student loans and other consumer debt, and the financial challenges of the middle class in the U.S.

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