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After Studying Housing Discrimination, This Historian is Fighting it in Court

The Department of Justice on Monday intervened in a federal lawsuit alleging that an appraiser and a mortgage lender discriminated against a couple who are both Johns Hopkins University professors by significantly lowering the value of their Baltimore home and denying a loan because they are Black.

In response to a pending motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the mortgage lender, loanDepot, justice department civil rights attorneys filed a “statement of interest” in a federal district court in Maryland arguing that the case raised significant questions about appraisal racial bias, noting that President Joe Biden had identified the issue “as a priority for the federal government”.

The White House established an interagency taskforce led by Marcia Fudge, the Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, in 2021 focused on rooting out disparities in home appraisals.

“The assertion by loanDepot that federal law prevented it from remedying or disregarding the allegedly discriminatory appraisal is patently false,” Department of Justice attorneys wrote.

Drs Nathan Connolly, a professor of history, and Shani Mott, an instructor in Africana studies, both at Johns Hopkins University, wanted to apply to refinance their mortgage and take advantage of historically low interest rates. They made renovations to their four-bedroom home in a predominantly white neighborhood in Baltimore.

They claimed in the lawsuit that the appraiser, Shane Lanham, of 20/20 Valuations, “dramatically” undervalued their Baltimore home at $472,000, and that loanDepot denied their loan application based on that valuation. Lanham countersued the couple for defamation in January arguing they falsely accused him of racism and that the accusation had a “devastating impact” on his reputation and business. The appraisal, he argued, “had nothing to do with discrimination” of Connolly and Mott’s race.

Connolly and Mott sought out a different lender, but this time they “whitewashed” their house and removed any signs that a Black family with three children lived there. They replaced family photos and children’s drawings with items from white friends. They brought a white colleague, a fellow Johns Hopkins professor, to stand in their place when the appraiser showed up.

The home was then valued at $750,000.

“We were clearly aware of appraisal discrimination,” Connolly told the New York Times. “But to be told in so many words that our presence and the life we’ve built in our home brings the property value down? It’s an absolute gut punch.”

Read entire article at The Guardian