By Mark Brown
Sept 10, 2020
Macnamara was a lead organizer for the Contract Buyers League, a group of Black home buyers who joined together in 1968 to fight exploitive real estate contract sales.
Barred at the time from receiving conventional bank mortgages, African Americans who bought homes in what previously had been all-white neighborhoods had no choice but to purchase the properties on contract from real estate speculators who routinely charged them double what they had paid for the same homes — often only days earlier. The sellers also charged them interest rates several points higher than white home buyers were paying for bank mortgages at the time.
Maybe the worst part of the deal was the installment contracts gave the buyers no equity in their homes, which they didn’t own unless and until they paid off the total amount owed. They could be evicted and lose everything if they missed even one payment, which was in the seller’s interest because the seller could then put the property on the market again — and collect another down payment.
Macnamara became aware of the problem by talking with residents after taking on a community organizing project for Father Jack Egan at Presentation Church in North Lawndale in 1967. Macnamara moved into the neighborhood himself and recruited a team of college students to help with the research
The first hurdle was getting residents to talk about it publicly.
“People were reluctant to talk about being on contract because it was such an embarrassment, and they didn’t even admit to each other that they were on contract,” Macnamara said in an interview for Bruce Orenstein’s documentary “The Color Tax: Origins of the Modern Day Wealth Gap.”