It’s not breaking news that for middle- and lower-income people of color, homeownership still feels unattainable. Burdened with historical and structural barriers as well as personal, social, and financial hardship, this is often reality.
A 2018 study by the Urban Institute mapping U.S. Black urban homeownership showed a 35 percentage point gap between homeownership by white and Black households in the Chicago area – 74.1%, versus 39.1%, — one of the highest in the country. A National Association of Realtors’ 2021 study showed homeownership rates for white Americans at 70 percent versus Black Americans almost 30 percentage points lower at 41 percent.
The theory that people should “just know” what they need to do to buy a home is simply not true. For many in the Black community, the roadblocks, and hurdles to achieve homeownership — such as lender discrimination, real estate broker disinterest, and other remaining legacies of red-lining practices — are very real. These barriers can be overwhelming until someone steps in to provide knowledge and support. Otherwise, for many, it continues to be a mountain too high to climb.
But there is hope. Hope in the form of assistance to overcome this disparity, and Black women in Chicago are leading the way. These women include Kim Cannon, mortgage loan originator at US Bank; Deborah Moore, director of neighborhood strategy and planning with Neighborhood Housing Services; Janece Simmons, Director of Regional Housing strategies at Far South CDC and Nicole Wheatly, community organizer and founder of Steps, Inc. Consulting,
Drawing on their own lived experiences growing up on the west and southside of the city, each understands the value of building legacy and stability through homeownership and the cascading impact on a community’s ability to thrive.
Through their work they provide a support network that includes financial and first-time homebuyer education, credit counseling, and down payment assistance. This includes a Chicago city program of $15,000 in down payment assistance to eligible owner-occupants who have gone through preparedness programs and are ready to buy a home. This program even offers forgivable loans to help current owner-occupants make home repairs.
In 2021 the Urban Institute published a study examining what was needed to close the racial homeownership gap nationally. The study found that adding 3 million net new Black homeowners by 2030 would close the 30-percentage point racial gap by 11 percent. If an estimated 6.5 million net new Black homeowners were added, the racial gap would be zero.
Since homeownership is still the main component of wealth for most households in the country, addressing homeownership alone would make substantive progress to racial equality.
This fact spotlights the magnitude of the need for, and importance of, community-based partnerships and support focused on helping people of color secure their path to economic and social equality, and family stability through homeownership.
“Black people are often groomed or conditioned to think a certain kind of way,” Cannon said. “We often don’t believe that we have the right to own a home. People rent for 10, 20, 30 years; in that time, they could have paid off a loan on their home.”
Cannon, Moore, Simmons, and Wheatly have a clear mission as they encourage aspiring homebuyers not to give up the dream of owning a home. “The goal is to change the homeownership narrative from, ‘I don’t know where to go and how to do this,’’ to ‘I know what to do and I have the support to do it.’”
Valli Perera is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She graduated in August 2021 specializing in Social Justice and Investigative journalism.
At Medill, she focused her writing in areas of social issues, immigration, and narrative writing. She also contributed to the Medill-Tea Project collaboration. The Tea Project organizationally offers counter-narratives to disruption caused by war and detention.
With Medill’s Investigative Lab, Perera was a member of a team that reported an investigative story for The Washington Post.