83°F
weather icon Clear

50 years after MLK assassination, housing equality fight continues

Catherine Nelson and her husband, Todd, spent two years on research before deciding on their first Las Vegas Valley home around 2015.

Now ready for more space, they have the same methodical mindset in the search for their next home, but with the added challenges of less inventory, higher interest rates and higher property values.

“You can’t kick yourself,” Nelson said. “There’s so much opportunity out there, and you don’t want to make a mistake.”

The story of upward mobility for the Nelsons — Catherine is a Las Vegas native of black and Chinese descent, and her husband is a Choctaw Native American from Indiana — reflects progress made not only in Las Vegas, but the nation, when it comes to shortening the home ownership gap for people of color.

But the fight for equality continues. Even 50 years after Washington, D.C., added legal protections against discrimination with the Fair Housing Act, a law enacted in the days after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., disparity still exists locally and beyond.

Denied loans

“Shacks” is how Cora Williams described her first homes after she moved to Las Vegas from Louisiana in the early 1950s.

It’s the word she used to describe houses on Monroe and Freeman avenues in a 1975 interview with UNLV as part of the university’s project documenting the black experience in Southern Nevada. The interview came fewer than 10 years after the death of King and birth of the Fair Housing Act.

Williams also described the houses as shacks to her youngest son, Howard Williams, now 53. Cora Williams died in September 2004 at age 73.

In the 1950s, parts of town were off-limits to black Las Vegans, Cora Williams told a UNLV interviewer. Inability to get a loan made building and improving property difficult for black locals.

“You couldn’t get a loan on any house in west Las Vegas,” Williams said. “All black people lived in west Las Vegas.”

No loans also made starting a business difficult. Cora Williams started out as a maid in the hotel industry when she moved to Las Vegas. After six months, she became a beautician and opened Sparks Studio Beauty Shop in west Las Vegas. She served on the state’s Cosmetology Board.

Without loans, people saved money from constructions jobs. They learned to rely on each other.

“They would rotate with each other,” Williams said. “You work on my place this Saturday; I’ll work on yours next Saturday.”

Cora Williams moved into a house on Van Buren Avenue around 1957. Today, son Howard Williams occupies the 912-square-foot house. He moved back in to take care of his mother when she first became sick around 2001.

The neighborhood has changed since he was a kid, Howard Williams said, adding that more police in the area has eased the crime rate. But with all the changes, his boyhood home that Cora Williams built has always been there for himself and his eight children and stepchildren, now in their 20s and 30s.

Securing home loans graphic

Data show disparity

Decades after Cora Williams faced strife in Las Vegas, King spoke against discrimination and Congress made housing equality the law of the land, accusations of disparity persist.

In December 2016, the National Fair Housing Alliance sued government-controlled mortgage company Fannie Mae.

The alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, accused Fannie Mae of taking better care of homes in predominantly white neighborhoods than those in predominantly black and Hispanic communities.

The discriminaion occurred in 38 metro areas, including Las Vegas, according to the NFHA.

In Las Vegas, according to the complaint, 40.6 percent of Fannie-owned homes in communities of color had peeling or chipped paint, compared with 16.7 percent in mostly white neighborhoods.

Some 34.4 percent of its foreclosed homes in nonwhite neighborhoods had overgrown or dead shrubbery, compared with 16.7 percent in predominantly white areas. About 9 percent of its homes in communities of color had a damaged fence, compared to none in mostly white neighborhoods.

Fannie Mae has denied the accusation, saying that it strongly disagrees with the allegations and that its maintenance standards for foreclosed homes “are designed to ensure that all properties are tended to and treated equally.”

Ongoing challenge

For people like the Nelsons, the Las Vegas couple looking for alarger home, the odds are worse for receiving conventional home loans compared to white applicants.

In November 2016, real estate data company Zillow reported that white applicants in the Las Vegas area were denied loans 10.3 percent of the time in 2015.

Black applicants faced a 17.3 percent denial rate. Asians were denied 15.6 percent of the time. Hispanics were denied 13.3 percent of the time. Denial rates for all groups have shrank since 2010.

Zillow expects to release updated numbers in April, a spokeswoman said.

The Las Vegas area has long had among the lowest rates of home ownership regardless of race. About 50 percent of people in the Las Vegas area owned a home in 1994. The number rose to 63 percent in 2004 and 2006. The rate stood at 51 percent in 2016.

Las Vegas demographics favor the rental market because of borrowing and lending constraints after the financial crisis, said Vivek Sah, director of UNLV’s LIED Institute for Real Estate Studies.

Many Las Vegans already struggle for a down payment large enough to qualify for conventional loans, he said.

Growing home prices only raise the down-payment requirements, pricing people out.

“That is why you may be seeing an apartment boom in the valley,” Sah said. “The Vegas market is dominated by low-end, less-educated jobs in the gaming and hotel industry. These jobs do not make a strong case on qualification for home buying, as the salaries are not stable and a lot are gratuity-based.”

‘Educate the buyer’

Las Vegas real estate agent Tracie Lockett-Green learned the value of home ownership around 8 years old. After her parents paid for their New York house in full, her father burned their mortgage documents to celebrate.

Lockett-Green moved to Southern Nevada about 25 years ago. She saw the Great Recession hit downtown Las Vegas especially hard. She worked with the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to help rehabilitate foreclosed houses, helping 90 homeowners. The program helped around 3,000 Nevadans.

The program lost funding in 2014.

The way to improve home ownership among people of color and people with low incomes is education, Lockett-Green said.

Not enough people know what agencies to go to for assistance, what determines a credit score, or how to improve inherited property to increase its value, she said.

Disadvantaged groups are making up for generations of lost time building wealth and credit. For Lockett-Green, government programs, employer programs, online resources, and programs from organizations such as the Culinary union help first-time homeowners close the gap.

“This should be in high schools,” she said. “We’ve got to educate the buyer.”

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at wmillward@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
How much do Las Vegas casino CEOs make?
Las Vegas gaming CEOs made anywhere between $1 million and $24 million last year, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ((Las Vegas Review-Journal)
30-year-old Rio needs a little TLC
Nearly 30 years after the Rio opened, the red and blue jewel that helped catapult Las Vegas to a new level with its buffet and nightclub has lost its status along with its shine.
The latest on the Drew Las Vegas - VIDEO
Eli Segall recounts his tour of the Drew Las Vegas, formerly the Fontainebleau, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinball Hall of Fame to move near south Strip
Operators of the Pinball Hall of Fame have been approved to build a new, larger arcade near the south edge of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard near Russel Road. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
National Hardware Show underway Las Vegas
The National Hardware Show kicked off Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Caesars for sale?
Caesars Entertainment Corp. has been swept up in takeover speculation since the company’s share price tumbled last year amid disappointing earnings and concerns over a recession. Amid the decline, hedge funds scooped up shares. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn began buying shares of Caesars as early as January. Icahn acquired nearly 18 percent by mid-March. In February Icahn called on the Caesars board to study a sale as a way to boost shareholder value.
Las Vegas home prices
Las Vegas home prices grew fastest among major markets in February for the ninth straight month. But amid affordability concerns, the growth rate has slowed down. Southern Nevada prices in February were up 9.7% from a year earlier, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index. The last time Las Vegas' price growth fell below 10% was in September 2017, S&P Dow Jones Indices reported.
Free Parking Coming To Wynn
Free parking will come to the Wynn and Encore resorts on May 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Founding Venetian employees talk about 20 years at the Strip resort
The Venetian, which opened May 3, 1999, is celebrating 20 years on the Las Vegas Strip. Seven original employees talk about opening the luxury resort and working there for two decades. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Circa aiming for December 2020 opening
The 1.25-million-square-foot property will have 44-stories and 777-rooms. It will also have a separate nine-story, 1,201-space parking garage.
Boxabl official explains the building concept
Boxabl business development manager Galiano Tiramani shows off a room built by his company. (Blake Apgar/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TI/Mirage Tram reopens
The tram that shuttles guests between TI and Mirage reopened this week after being closed for much of 2018.
Las Vegas Convention Center expansion taking shape
Renderings and actual footage show how the Las Vegas Convention Center is evolving.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at Las Vegas convention
Former Starbucks CEO and potential presidential candidate Howard Schultz spoke at the Epicor Insights user conference at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Drew Las Vegas to open in the second quarter of 2022
The 67-story Drew Las Vegas is slated to open in the second quarter of 2022 at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NAB Day 1 (Time Lapse)
NAB kicked off at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
National Association of Broadcasters Show shows 1mm thick 8K TV with 22.2 channel digital sound
Japan’s NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories booth featured a 1mm thick 8K TV system used in conjunction with a 22.2 channel digital sound system at the National Association of Broadcasters Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada shoppers react to Smith’s no longer accepting Visa credit cards
On March 1, Smith’s announced that it would no longer be accepting Visa credit cards at any of its 142 supermarkets, including the 45 in Nevada.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission asks how long Wynn executives knew about misconduct
Business reporter Rick Velotta gives an update on the adjudicatory hearing on the suitability of Wynn Resorts to retain its gaming license in Massachusetts.
Henderson app developer part of Startup in Residence
Henderson based developers of the app On Point Barricade are taking part in Startup in Residence, a North America program dedicated to pairing tech companies with governments. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sam's Town employees and customers talk of their love for the iconic casino
Longtime Sam's Town employees and customers love each other and love their casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas apartments rents
Las Vegas’ apartment market has accelerated in recent years. Developers are packing the suburbs with projects, landlords are on a buying spree, and tenants have filled buildings.
William Boyd talks about the birth of Sam's Town
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Sam's Town, William Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, talks about how the casino became one of the first local properties in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
High Roller observation wheel turns five
The world’s tallest observation wheel celebrates it’s fifth year on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Escape Room Industry Growing In Las Vegas
Escapology employees discuss the growing escape room industry in the U.S. and Las Vegas. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
 
Las Vegas motorcoach resort offers luxury amenities

The Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort has elevated the RV lifestyle to a fine art, with amenities like a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, a fitness center, a 24-hour guard gate and concierge services.