VHFA responds to call for racial equity

By: Maura Collins

The Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is heeding the call Governor Phil Scott made ealier this week “to reflect on what role each of us can play to end hate, racism and bigotry.” As our nation grapples with complex discussions around institutional racism, the housing industry must be a focal vehicle for both analysis of past racism and how we can work toward eradicating institutional racism in the future. To do this we need to examine the role VHFA can play to address the reality that housing policy and finance has been used to perpetuate racial inequalities.

VHFA staunchly stands by our mission to finance and promote affordable, safe, and decent housing opportunities, and we know that housing can be the best way to end poverty, promote health, spark economic growth for families and neighborhoods, and create vibrant communities.

Yet we must acknowledge the clear evidence that housing has been used as a tool to divide communities, perpetuate unfair educational opportunities, and reduce wealth. For many, this has led to poor health, inadequate nutrition and health care, crumbling infrastructure, insufficient services, generational poverty, overcrowding, debt, strained families, and the racial divides we have today.

VHFA, and many of our partners, are proud to be equal opportunity employers and lenders. Together, we work to expand housing opportunities to all people, regardless of race. Unfortunately, inequities persist and, in some ways, have worsened. The homeownership rate of African Americans in Vermont in the 1970s (when VHFA was launched) was 31 percentage points less than white households. Today this gap has grown to 51 percentage points.

Additionally, despite intentionally working hard to actively diversify our recruitment and connections, only 5% of our staff are people of color, despite our home office being in a city with 17% people of color. So while VHFA has always worked hard to reflect our communities, we can do better.

Our organization is ready to take the next steps of action. We will be more deeply examining if access to our programs is limited by race. We also will disaggregate our programmatic data by race in more meaningful ways, engage more people of color in our work, and help support communities to become more welcoming and inclusive, as part of our upcoming three-year strategic plan. As a mission-driven housing lender in Vermont we will continue to pursue more opportunities to act well after this immediate crisis passes.

Please hold us accountable. As the Governor said yesterday, “in the greatest country in the world, no one should stand for this, no one should make excuses for this, and no one should ignore this. We must ALL make clear: enough is enough.”

VHFA remains committed to taking concrete steps to ensure Vermont affordable housing resources are tools for achieving equality and ending racism.