Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Children of the Poor” is a meditation on parenthood in times of hardship, with a particular focus on the impact of poverty and social injustice. The title of this Comment comes from the second sonnet of Brooks’s tripartite poem: “What shall I give my children? who are poor, / Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land.” In the poem, Brooks asks an immediate question: How will she respond to her children’s requests right now for material goods and acceptance that she cannot give them? Unable to fulfill those needs, the mother in the poem instructs her children in their reality, providing lessons that will hopefully support them throughout their lives. This is the much larger question for parents, who worry not just for their children’s present but also for their future. Echoing Brooks’s simultaneous focus on material needs and emotional resilience, this Comment is about homeownership—the cornerstone of the American Dream and an “essential” for anyone hoping to pass on generational wealth to their children.
Historically, there can be no doubt that homeownership has allowed a great many Americans, primarily White Americans, to build wealth and provide their children with financial stability. For those Americans able to become homeowners, especially those who did so in the mid-twentieth century, the promises of homeownership have been fulfilled. But for those cut out of the primary homeownership market, especially Black Americans, those promises have largely proved empty. In fact, the financing devices available to low-income and minority communities have had significant adverse effects on those communities and their ability to pass on any kind of wealth or prosperity to their children. This Comment explores the installment land contract (ILC), one financing device that has been used in lieu of a mortgage for those who cannot qualify for traditional mortgage financing.
The ILC was especially prominent during the mid-twentieth century in Black communities shut out of the mortgage market by the Federal Housing Administration. Since 2008, the ILC has again become popular: increased regulation of the mortgage market has made it more difficult for low-income homebuyers to get mortgages, but the underlying desire to participate in the American Dream has not changed. This Comment looks at the history of the ILC and, using that as a backdrop, explores the best way to take advantage of the financing device while still protecting potential buyers from the worst of its associated risks. To that end, this Comment concludes that current regulation is inadequate to appropriately deal with the risks of the ILC. This Comment proposes the adoption of three protective measures: (1) imposing mandatory purchase counseling, (2) creating venue requirements that prohibit eviction courts from hearing ILC cases, and (3) making per se unconscionable all ILCs that include both an “as is” deed and a forfeiture clause.