Just in time for the holidays, DC 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 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 to getting to home ownership.”
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 a far less risky endeavor than paying rent in perpetuity. He added that home ownership “makes your finances actually more known! Other people have said they don’t want to face (their financial situation), but you actually know what you’re gonna pay for the next 30 years. How many people can tell you how much their rent is going to be for that long?”
While Freeman was able to take advantage of programs including a DC Employee Purchase Assistance Program and the Homeownership Purchase Assistance Program, Falcicchio listed off a number of 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 of the costs associated with down payments, closing and the like. Another new program is a $1 million Heirs Legal Services Fund to educate folks on estate planning.
While these are programs that can certainly support low-income residents and help to steer folks into affordable housing, the goal does not require that the 20,000 new Black homeowners meet any income requirement.
Local Realtor® Tawnya Brown of Mcwilliams/Ballard Inc. was also in attendance at the closing celebration. She explained that the purchasing prospects for folks who are working class 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, 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.”
The mission of Bowser’s strike force, according to Falcicchio, actually works almost in tandem with other already established District programs for homeowners. One in particular has repaired about 100 homes to make sure 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, 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.
The Strike Force was staffed by the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development and supported by researchers and analysts at Urban Institute and Howard University. Part of the work of the BHSF included conversation with residents who were able to use District homeownership programs to purchase their first home, and the body also took advice from residents who have sought to buy a home 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 own 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 was nearly bursting with pride when she told everyone who could hear, “They’ll be able to have their college friends come 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.”