Friday, February 3, 2017

#PropertySchmooze Panel 4: Exploring Rural Property Law and Ownership

FullSizeRender-2For the last panel of the day we have a discussion of rural property and ownership.

First up is Stephen Clowney (Arkansas and former blogger here at the #PropertyLawProfBlog) who discussed his project titled Should Law Care About Rural Places? In his talk, he explored the decline of the rural areas of America, juxtaposing it with the economic factors that increase the prosperity of cities. These factors include labor pooling, the easy and cheaper transport of goods, and the flow of ideas. Steve then asks whether it would be possible to build a list of factors that might similarly justify a greater emphasis on the rural. He notes that three main points that have emerged in the literature for preservation of the rural include culturalism, national security, and economic growth. The first point is the notion that there is a cultural aspect to rural areas that justifies special preservation. However, Steve challenges this by noting that poor education levels and weak health indicators pervade the lives of those who live in rural areas. A second argument in favor of the rural is national security, under the theory that a country should be able to produce its own food during periods of war. Steve responds to this by stating that food independence might be similarly achieved through automation and could be done in more urban areas. Last is the argument that rural areas produce significant economic benefits for the country. However, Steve notes that people have higher debt loads in rural areas and most of the poorest counties in America are rural. After rejecting these prevailing arguments, he asserts that a better justification for the rural is that economic growth in rural areas has a more significant impact on those living in poverty than economic growth in urban areas. In order to help realize these benefits, he argues that there is a need to break up the size of the many megafarms that populate the rural landscape so that they can be broken up in smaller farms that would generate a larger middle class in rural areas. To do this he asserts that Congress should return to a more aggressive estate tax system that prevents such large transfers of wealth and subsequent consolidation.

Closing out the panel was Thomas Mitchell (Texas A&M) who spoke about his book chapter project on the different strategies that have been used over time to exploit African Americans in their aspirations to become homeowners or maintain homeownership. He specifically explores installment land contracts where black would-be homeowners, who were unable to obtain conventional financing, would enter into agreements with unscrupulous home sellers who would “lease to own” the property at an outrageous price and then, upon a missed payment, evict the individual and keep the profit. Another strategy was through the over-assessments of property taxes for African American homeowners, all in an effort to break up these communities and drive out black owners. Lastly, he spoke about the steering of black borrowers toward expensive financial products, including adjustable rate mortgages and loans with numerous fees. Thomas looks to use this work to explore the deeper phenomenon behind these practices in hopes of discerning an overarching way to work through these systemic issues on a larger scale.

Great panels and a very lively discussion. Time for dinner! See you tomorrow!

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