Just in time for the holidays, D.C. native Brittany Freeman closed on her very own home in the District. In celebration of the milestone, she received a gift basket from Mayor Muriel Bowser to commemorate her journey as part of Bowser’s Black Homeownership Strike Force (BHSF), dedicated to creating 20,000 new Black homeowners by 2030.
Describing how she felt along her journey from interested potential homebuyer to the closing date as, “excited,” Freeman’s achievement is one she says other residents can also attain. She admits, though, deciding to find a house and go through a process toward signing a 30-year mortgage is not without some apprehension. “It’s the financial trauma that most Black people in the community have,” she explained, “and understanding that poverty is not just a long-term thing. You can eventually grow out of poverty if you take the education route. And that’s what I had to understand, that getting an education would be my legacy and home ownership.”
Don’t Dream Too Big
Relaxing at her front door with well-wishers, Freeman shared that even some of those closest to her warned her against dreaming “too big.”
Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio joined the conversation and pointed out how owning a home is far less risky than paying rent in perpetuity. He added that homeownership “makes your finances actually more known! Other people have said they don’t want to face [their financial situation], but you actually know you’re going to pay for the next 30 years. How many people can tell you how much their rent is going to be for that long?” he said.
While Freeman was able to take advantage of programs, including a D.C. Employee Purchase Assistance Program and the Homeownership Purchase Assistance Program, Falcicchio listed several additional programs that the mayor will be advancing in the 2023 budget. One program is a $10 million Black homeownership fund that will assist buyers with some costs associated with down payments, closing costs, and the like. Another new program is a $1 million Heirs Legal Services Fund to educate folks on estate planning.
While these programs can certainly support low-income residents and help steer folks into affordable housing, the goal does not require that the 20,000 new Black homeowners meet any income requirement.
Buying a Home Takes Know-How
Local Realtor Tawnya Brown of Mcwilliams/Ballard, Inc. also attended the closing celebration. She explained that the purchasing prospects for working-class folks can be good, but she admits that buying an affordable home in the District requires some know-how. She said, “It’s always been my goal to help teachers, firemen, and policemen to live where they work. But not everybody can have a place because the prices are getting so high.” She laments that time is working against a number of buyers. “It’s getting to the point that if you don’t buy now, you won’t be able to afford to stay in the city,” she warned.
The mission of Bowser’s Strike Force, according to Falcicchio, works almost in tandem with other already established District programs for homeowners. One, in particular, has repaired about 100 homes to ensure they’re up to code. “There’s other programs that we have that support elder residents who own their home and need to make repairs. And it’s focused on particular items that need to be addressed. A lot of people need to get their roofs replaced. And so right now we’ve focused on the repairs that we know we can do and do at scale.”
The Black Homeownership Strike Force met to deliver the mayor recommendations about reaching the 2030 goal, and it brought together experts from government, housing and financial counseling, lending/underwriting, and real estate development. In addition, representatives and advocates from the faith-based, senior, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities who focus on addressing social and racial inequities were part of the process that led to the 30-page report on increasing the number of Black homeowners in the District.
Listening to Residents’ Homebuying Woes
The Strike Force was staffed by the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development and supported by researchers and analysts at the Urban Institute and Howard University. Part of the work of the BHSF included conversations with residents who could use District homeownership programs to purchase their first home. The body also took advice from residents who have sought to buy a house and have not yet achieved that goal.
As for Brittany Freeman and her twins, she says she’s especially happy that her children are in a better position in their lives than she was in her youth. “One less thing to worry about is my children going off to college and not having to experience what I did when I went to college and not having a home to go to,” Freeman said. She was nearly bursting with pride when she told everyone who could hear, “They’ll be able to have their college friends come to stay at their house. And I think that was the one last thing, and I didn’t have to worry about it, and I completed that journey.”