Opinion

With Fudge at HUD, There’s Opportunity to Bridge the Racial Wealth Gap

As we enter Black History Month, our nation, led by President Joe Biden, embarks in a new direction. The new administration is moving forward enacting its agenda, including the much-anticipated confirmation hearings of many presidential appointees. For the housing sector, the confirmation of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to become the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is a hopeful moment for those of us working hard to bridge the racial homeownership gap in this country.

From her early experience as mayor of her Ohio hometown dealing with local housing issues, to her record championing matters addressing poverty, hunger and civil rights, Fudge stands well-positioned to lead this important department. Indeed, Fudge wrote in a letter to then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson that homeownership itself is a “clear, critical factor in narrowing the racial and wealth divide in our country.”

Based on her record in Congress, particularly as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Fudge will demonstrate a strong vision and voice necessary to fulfill HUD’s longstanding mission to “create a decent home and suitable living environment for all Americans.”

If ever there were a time to focus on closing the racial wealth gap through homeownership, that time is now. After decades of promises from both Democratic and Republican leaders, we simply haven’t done enough to change the homeownership rates for minorities — especially African Americans – in any meaningful way.

Americans at large remain united behind the principle of homeownership as one of the keys to achieving the American Dream. With Biden’s recent inauguration, equitable housing accessibility for all Americans will undoubtedly become a top priority. While nearly 67 percent of all Americans are homeowners, only 44 percent of Black families own a home compared to 73 percent of white families. Today, the black homeownership rate is the same as in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was enacted. Rep. Fudge understands this disparity and the unique challenges that prevent many minority families from turning the dream of homeownership into a reality.

Homeownership drives American wealth. It empowers families to transform their monthly housing expenditures into lasting equity passed through the generations. It enables families to better launch a business, pay for college or invest in other dreams. Intergenerational wealth creates opportunity and advancement for those fortunate enough to be the familial recipient.

I know this true because I have been lucky enough to experience this in my own life. In 1936, my great-grandmother, a black widow living in North Carolina raising four boys while working as a housekeeper, purchased her own home. Her decision created generations of homeowners in my family. Nearly everyone in my family owns a home and has gone to college because of her choice over 80 years ago.

The reality of today’s housing market is that unless prospective homebuyers get a gift from relatives or an inheritance, it could take many years to save enough money to cover the down payment requirement. This type of inherited wealth is far less common in our communities of color. Most Black and brown children aren’t as lucky as I was to have a family with the means to provide a down payment gift to their children.

This is why protecting down payment assistance programs is critical.

Access to down payments for creditworthy minority borrowers must be a component of any effort to address economic inequality — and that makes DPA providers essential to America’s plans for a better future.

Our company, CBC Mortgage Agency, a tribally-owned, federally chartered and public-purpose government agency, provides down payment assistance through its Chenoa Fund. This program increases affordable and sustainable homeownership opportunities for creditworthy individuals in pursuit of the American Dream.

Last year, over half of our borrowers were minorities, with 75 percent of borrowers representing the first generation in their family ever to own a home. Increasing homeownership in communities of color is key to the Chenoa Fund’s mission, which is why we proudly sponsor the UHOUSI Initiative. This initiative specifically focuses on increasing homeownership among African Americans and other minorities. We know homeownership can help drive economic recovery — and for minority communities, DPA programs are the lifeblood of homeownership.

As we celebrate Black History Month, there is no better moment to renew our nation’s commitment to strengthening America’s housing industry. We are eager to work with incoming HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to ensure tomorrow’s housing leaders understand the importance and role of responsibly operated DPA programs for all Americans — but especially our minority communities.

 

Tai Christensen is the director of government affairs at CBC Mortgage Agency.

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