Each year, Black History Month provides an opportunity for the African American community to look backward in order to move forward. There is no better time, then, to look at the recent history of black homeownership. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good. But fear not, we will learn to live together as brothers and sisters, one human race. We shall overcome.
First, let’s face the difficult facts. African American homeownership in Atlanta went into freefall around the 2008 Great Recession, declining by half. Atlanta has one of the nation’s largest African American communities, yet it trails in the percentage of local housing that is black-owned.
This means falling behind an already depressing national average—across America, black homeownership levels are now lower than in 1970, two years after race-based housing discrimination was outlawed.
A home is, for most families, their primary asset. The wealth in a house can be passed down to the next generation and grow with each successive one. Perhaps not surprisingly, white households currently hold more than ten times the wealth of black ones, due in large part to their greater propensity to own their homes.
There are many reasons for the racial disparities, redlining and predatory lending practices among them, and we must continue to battle discrimination. But black communities also have more resources at our disposal than many realize. Here, we will share just one—down payment assistance programs.
The greatest barrier to homeownership can often be the down payment. On the other side of that financial hurdle typically lies greater economic stability. In Atlanta, for example, the average rent cost is $1,381. The average mortgage payment, just $890.
That means working families paying high rents struggle to save for a home, so they can ultimately pay less for housing and build equity for the future. The irony verges on injustice.
This problem isn’t unique to African Americans, but many more Caucasians receive down payment funds from family members to accelerate their transition to homeownership. One needn’t have a trust fund to benefit from such a leg up, and a disproportionate share of the white population does so.
Down payment assistance programs are designed to level the playing field, stepping in when family can’t loan closing funds to qualified borrowers. The UHOUSI Initiative, a specialized version of CBC Mortgage Agency’s Chenoa Fund national down payment assistance program, is one such program. Targeted to increase responsible homeownership among African Americans, other minorities, and millennials, UHOUSI is working to broaden access to the American Dream.
More people within Atlanta’s black communities need to know about these opportunities, so they no longer believe, incorrectly, that homeownership is out of their reach. To this end, the Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral in Austell will host a Black History Month Home Buyer Event. It will cover down payments, credit, and other topics to prepare attendees for homeownership.
The homeownership that down payment assistance programs makes possible is great for Americans and is the key both to urban renewal and African American economic development. Initiatives of this nature enjoy broad political support from the White House and Congress—and many Americans—to give everyone a fair shot at a bright future.
We are committed to advocating that they be protected and enhanced. For African Americans homeownership policy is a key litmus test in the upcoming presidential elections.
We have great faith that increasing homeownership in African American communities will also help us build communities. Where neighbors know and help each other over the years.
Where upward mobility offers hope and inspiration to the next generation. Where home equity is leveraged to send children to college and to start small businesses. And where our communities are more stable, benefiting our churches, schools, and neighborhoods.
This seems a worthy goal to set during Black History Month at the outset of a fresh decade. And we welcome all aspiring home buyers—our community builders—to join us.
Dr. Alveda C. King is a niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and daughter of civil rights activist A. D. King and his wife, Naomi Barber King. She is a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and the founder of Alveda King Ministries.
Bishop Harry R. Jackson is National Co-Chair of the UHOUSI Initiative and Senior Pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.