D.C. churches launch Black Equity Through Homeownership alliance to provide Black renters, particularly Black native Washingtonians, permanent housing during gentrification.
“The story of the United States of America is a story of land. Natives had it, but by violence, by lie, by law, through policy, a people killed and took what they wanted,” says Reverend William Lamar of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is a member church of Washington Interfaith Network, a community of hundreds of D.C. area multi-faith congregations that addresses concerns through organizing and contacting elected officials. Now, Washington Interfaith Network is focusing more intentionally on Black homeownership by establishing the Black Equity Through Homeownership, an alliance of 50 churches seeking to build homes for Black residents, create a fund for inherited homes that need repair, facilitate homeownership workshops, and advocate for affordable housing, including rental properties.
Celeste Bryant, co-chair of Black Equity Through Homeownership, says about a year ago when the group formed a main concern was “the history of exclusion that led to the wealth income gap.”
A typical White household in D.C. reportedly had a net worth of $284,000 compared to $3,500 for Black households in 2013 and 2014. A lack of Black homeownership is the main reason White households in D.C. reported a net worth 81 times greater than the city’s U.S.-born Black households.
The group is interested in building homes for Black residents to purchase.
“What we want is land that we either are able to receive free and clear or purchase at an extremely ridiculously low rate. We want to use that land in partnership with developers who are friendly, well-prepared, and who have the history and capacity to build homes that are affordable,” says Bryant.
Reverend Anthony Minter of First Rock Baptist Church, co-chair of the Washington Interfaith Network, purchased vacant lots from the city at a discounted rate and built homes for Black residents, he says.
First Rock Baptist Church built fifteen homes and a senior home with more than 70 units in the Benning Ridge neighborhood. The construction process started in the early 90’s and ended in 2004, says Reverend Minter.
Barbra Leathers, 56, says that the opportunity allowed her to become a homeowner at 28-years-old, receive assistance as the church paid the down payment and her contribution was $500 total for the home, and build generational wealth because her son will inherit the home.
“It was amazing. It was God-led because there was no way I thought about being a homeowner, and being able to buy it for $500,” says Leathers.
Leathers also attended Saturday workshops organized by First Rock Baptist Church about how to become a first-time homebuyer.
Bryant says she’s optimistic about the Black Equity Through Homeownership initiative because it’s led by the Washington Interfaith Network, which Minter co-chairs.
“WIN has a capacity of securing land and has successfully done it in the past,” says Bryant.
One current Southeast renter is hopeful as well.
D.C. native, Curtis “Coach Peedy” Monroe, 46, was born, raised, and currently lives in a Benning Terrace apartment complex with his sister because the rent is more affordable to split.
“I’ve been interested in homeownership for 10 years, but I feel stuck because of my salary. I’m not sure where to start,” he says.
Bryant says that the network’s intended demographic are “average people” such as “a police officer who could not afford to live in the District, school teachers, even the janitor who makes a decent enough salary,” she says.
Minter says the Black Equity Through Homeownership network also plans to also reach “D.C. natives who helped build the city” such as Coach Peedy who has led violence interrupter programming since 1993 to improve safety in the District.
“It’s a hurt feeling that I’ve invested in the area, but I still may not get a house. It’s a hurt feeling,” he says. “Even my football players are leaving the program because their families have to move out of state to afford [housing].”
He says Black Equity Through Homeownership workshops are informative about the homebuying process.
“Southeast residents don’t get the opportunity to become homeowners because of a lack of financial literacy. That’s why I’ve been taking trainings, like how not to spend unnecessary money,” he says.
Black Equity Through Homeownership held a virtual workshop in mid-November, with nearly 90 attendees, who learned safety related questions to ask before purchasing “from flooding in the basement, gas pipelines underneath the home, and gas stoves being correlated to children’s asthma,” says Bryant.
Some parishioners don’t have to wait until Black Equity Through Homeownership acquires land and builds homes.
One member also decided in her will to leave First Rock Baptist Church her home.
“It was really a shock when we found out that we were left in her will,” says Minter.
Minter decided to sell the home to a church member “for a rate lower than the market rate.”
“I know I got a better deal than I would have if it were out in the open competing against a whole lot of people. So I was just competing with the people in the church,” says Randolph Davis.
Davis, 67, already owned a home in Benning Ridge for more than 30 years, but decided to sell the home to his 24-year-old son, who was searching for a property and interested in living close to family. Davis, who moved into the nearby second property earlier this year, says the home needs repairs but he’s willing to incur the cost to live close to his son.
Davis says that the housing market now is “rough” compared to decades ago when he first purchased.
“It’s getting out of hand. It looks like East New York. Things are just different from 30 years ago,” he says.
Rising property taxes have prompted many of the city’s Black homeowners to cash in their equity.
Some churches ask that members don’t sell their homes to developers but instead first contact the congregation.
Reverend Henry C. Gregory III of Shiloh Baptist Church in Shaw has a housing committee led by former D.C. housing official Monteria Ivey. The church is acquiring properties to guarantee that low-and moderate-income residents in the community are not displaced. (Shiloh Baptist Church is not a part of the Black Equity Through Homeownership network or Washington Interfaith Network.)
Reverend Minter says that he’s proud that churches are organizing for Black residents, particularly Black native Washingtonians, being pushed out to other areas.
“No one should have to move states to find housing, even if it’s the DMV. At most people should move to different neighborhoods,” he says.