Real (Estate) Talk Juneteenth Edition: What one realty firm is doing to boost Black homeownership

As featured in my monthly race and real estate Inman News column. 

June is National Homeownership Month, making now "a time to share our stories and create opportunities for future homeowners". Yet, in many parts of the nation, homes seem to be "flying off the shelves" with an inventory shortage in many U.S. markets.  As a result, it may feel like we do not need to champion homeownership -- people get it, right? 

Sadly, the racial group that has the lowest homeownership rate (nationally) in the midst of a housing boom are Black folks (with regrettably Latinx being not far behind in underrepresentation, making Latinx housing access and opportunity a key part of this conversation too). NAR’s 2021 Snapshot of Race and Home Buying in America showed that from March to December 2020, the home buying rate was:

+ 82% white (60.1% of US population in 2019 Census; overrepresented by 36%)

+ 9% Hispanic/Latino (18.5% of US population in 2019 Census; underrepresented by over 50%)

+ 8% Asian/Pacific Islander (5.9% of US population in 2019 Census; overrepresented 35%)

+ 5% Black (13.4% of US population in 2019 Census; underrepresented by over 60%)

This is no surprise due to government-sanctioned "redlining", the razing of Black-owned properties for highways, the decimation of Black communities from incendiary false accusations (like Tulsa's "Black Wall Street"), gentrification (for example, in 2021 Black entrepreneurs are being shut out of the revitalization of the area formerly known as Tulsa's "Black Wall Street"), the well-documented unjust undervaluing of Black- (and Latinx) owned properties and predatory lending (check out How to Be an Anti-Racist Pro for more on all of this documented history). 

Better Homes and Gardens even warns: "aspiring POC [people of color] homeowners and investors should never assume that a loan offer is in their favor" and shares tidbits on navigating, at least, unconscious bias and, at worst, full-blown racism.

Most of this occurred during our or our parents' lifetimes -- not several centuries ago -- so it is understandable that the "aftershocks", the lingering legacy of inequitable homeownership, are still reverberating. Notwithstanding, there is also a sense of centuries-old disappointment as we recognize as well this month Juneteenth -- the celebrated day that the final antebellum enslaved Black people were notified of their constitutional freedom over 156 years ago. If you really want to keep it in this millennium, just since the year 2000, Citi reported that $218 Billion have been lost in housing sales without higher Black participation specifically --  that impacts the entire industry and shows homeownership is not a "zero-sum" game. Thus, we need concerted efforts to stop the bleeding and to heal the wounds of inequitable housing opportunities for the most excluded. 

At this moment, you may be thinking, "I get all of that and I want to be part of the solution but this problem is bigger than me and my team, right?"

This year, the 
federal government has taken steps to recommit to fair housing but what can be done locally?

Well, in Madison, Wisconsin the Alvarado Real Estate Group and One City Schools have partnered to co-create, OWN IT: Building Black Wealth a non-traditional (because there are not the standard hoops and barriers to navigate) and non-repayable $15,000 grant for homebuyers. This is a big deal for would-be homebuyers -- particularly our veterans using VA loans and other prospective buyers using FHA loans -- that may not have the downpayment funds to compete in markets where only cash or conventional loans are entertained like this example in Indiana. OWN IT is especially encouraging and innovative since Wisconsin notoriously has one of the lowest Black homeownership rates around at only 26% yeesh.

OWN IT is inspirational proof that working for a solution to "level the playing field" can start with just a few determined minds --  beginning with one realty firm. Perhaps yours can be next! 

Check out the video at the end of this article to hear directly from:

+ Marilyn Ruffin (VP of Family & Community Initiatives, One City Schools and Co-Creator of OWN IT: Building Black Wealth), 

+ Sara Alvarado (Writer, Speaker, Co-Owner of Alvarado Real Estate Group and Co-Creator of OWN IT: Building Black Wealth) and 

+ Tiffany Malone (Real Estate Consultant, Affordable Housing Advocate and Co-Creator of OWN IT: Building Black Wealth) 

In addition to OWN IT, we discuss:  

+ How down-payment programs in their current state often can create barriers to homeownership 

+ The importance of not waiting for our membership organizations/associations to do this work or for governmental policies to change but working around them in compliance

+ The need for real estate licensee education to include deeper dives into U.S. housing history (with Richard Rothstein's book, The Color of Law, being an ideal curriculum base (even if simply required to join our brokerages; KW has started something similar, which will be covered in an upcoming article))

+ How there are those in our communities that want to be homeowners but have no clue as to how to OWN IT (see what I did there). Thus, there is a need for homebuyer education to be ramped up by us real estate pros 

Quiet as it kept, we all -- every pro of every racial group -- could be part of the solution by simply offering more homebuyer educational talks, particularly in marginalized neighborhoods that are tenant-heavy (salute to those of us already doing it!). By the way, NAR’s 2021 Snapshot of Race and Home Buying in America cited that high debt-to-income ratios and low credit scores are the main reasons for loan denials (all racial groups struggle from one of these), which highlights the need for more education around these subjects for prospective homebuyers en masse, not just for Black and Latinx.

I hope their journey inspires each of us to keep moving the housing equity in opportunity and access needle and perhaps even replicate a similar initiative in your area. And, if you are interested in supporting OWN IT -- they have a national vision -- be sure to check out their donation page at:

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