Bible verse Isaiah 32:18 declares that all of God’s people should live in peaceful dwellings, secure homes and undisturbed places of rest. As such, it should be the mission of every church to help ensure that community members are aware of such homeownership opportunities. Given their place in communities and understanding of cultural nuances, churches can communicate the financial and intrinsic values of responsible homeownership in relevant, relatable and retainable ways. This factor is critical, particularly in communities of people of color, where discrimination, economic hardship and a lack of awareness have made the dream of homeownership seem like a far-fetched reality.
The barriers that have long faced nonwhite homebuyers in this country are well documented. Every tactic — from redlining to racially biased property appraisals and predatory lending practices — has been used to prevent minorities from establishing the intergenerational wealth needed to maintain safe, strong and financially stable communities. Today, a toxic combination of these historical woes and market trends has exacerbated the problem. Community churches are uniquely qualified to help effect change in our communities by becoming a bridge to homeownership. We are the change we have been waiting for.
Thankfully, programs exist to help. For example, the UHOUSI Initiative, an effort sponsored by CBC Mortgage Agency’s Chenoa Fund, a national down payment assistance program, has a plan to help minority and millennial homebuyers prosper — to give them hope and a future by giving them access to responsible homeownership.
In Chicago, the already significant gap between white and African American homeownership continues to grow. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2022 Snapshot of Race and Homebuying in America report, the national homeownership rate reached 65.5% in 2020. Meanwhile, the Black homeownership rate — now at 43.4% — has steadily declined over the last decade. Major factors contributing to this inequity are that 41% of Black households carry student loan debt, at an amount that is twice as much as that of their white counterparts, and 7% have been rejected for mortgage loans. This means that even if an African American is approved for a mortgage loan, they may not have the cash needed to close the deal. The harsh reality is that, at every turn, African Americans have been stripped of their potential to trade high rental costs for an opportunity to build equity in a home, which they could later leverage to send their children to college, start a business or buy a second home.
Today’s marketplace also places tremendous pressure on homebuyers. Housing prices have skyrocketed thanks to the once steep decline of mortgage rates, pandemic-driven lifestyle shifts and increased competition among buyers. While this price appreciation affects all buyers, white Americans are statistically far more likely to have the financial safety net needed to purchase a home than their minority counterparts.
These price hikes make homes in predominantly Black and minority neighborhoods significantly less affordable to longtime residents, making it more difficult for individuals and families to purchase, maintain or inherit property. Without the benefit of homeownership, Black Americans and their beloved communities will continue falling victim to bad-acting investors and gentrification. Furthermore, it has been reported that the median down payment in Chicago has risen by more than 1% to 12.9% of the purchase price, a significant increase from the 11.8% we saw just before the pandemic. This percentage increase may seem minor to some, but it could devastate the African American community.
Securing a down payment is often a rite of passage for first-time homebuyers who cannot rely on support from relatives or otherwise secure closing costs, and it can be made possible with the help of partners such as the UHOUSI Initiative. That is the message that our churches help deliver.
Put simply, actively encouraging responsible homeownership among African Americans is a form of restorative justice. The church has long advocated for this, and it is a topic that few organizations understand better. This is why the partnership between the UHOUSI Initiative, the Chicago Theological Seminary and our local churches is critical.
Again, we are the change we have been waiting for. A more equitable future is on the horizon, and we must not forgo any opportunity to right the wrongs of our nation’s past. As we look toward a brighter future for all current and future Chicagoans, we must not forget the vital role churches can play in helping each attain the America Dream. It is good for their community and the entirety of our city and nation.
Timothy Wright III, an attorney, is national co-chair for the UHOUSI Initiative and managing partner of operations for Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A.