The road to financial power and prosperity is paved with homeownership. Nationally, over 70% of Black wealth is tied to homeownership.
In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, there were months of protests in D.C. and across the country. The protests also fostered conversations around the connections between issues of policing and economics, education, housing, and equity. Americans of all races began to demand that the institutions with which they spent money and did business go on record with their commitment to racial justice.
While justice in the courts became a rallying cry against police misconduct and brutality, the fight for racial equity initiatives and policies further took on a renewed purpose. Major corporations including Microsoft, PayPal, Facebook, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Walmart, and many others pledged to invest millions and billions of dollars in racial equity initiatives.
Unfortunately, two years later, these investments have done little to move the needle upward for the rate of homeownership for Black Americans and Black residents of the District.
Homeownership Gap Persists
According to census data from Prosperity Now, the Black homeownership rate in D.C. is 35.2%, compared to the white homeownership rate of 50.3%. This gap stands in stark contrast to the neighboring Black communities in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where the rate of Black homeownership sits at 61.1%. Because of these vast disparities in homeownership, Black households in D.C. are three times more likely to have zero wealth.
Black Homebuyers Twice as Likely to be Denied Mortgages in D.C.
Data from the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, provided by the Virginia-based Compliance Tech, showed that in 2020 approximately 32,238 loan applications were made or originated by mortgage lenders in D.C.
White applicants were approved for 16,227 mortgages compared to 4,945 mortgages approved for Black applicants in D.C.
“The data states that Black homebuyers at 20.86% were denied mortgage loans at 2.7 times the rate of white homebuyers at 7.6% white,” stated Maurice Jourdain-Earl, managing director of Compliance Tech.
Despite historical discriminatory mortgage lending practices and rising home prices, government leaders, nonprofit organizations, real estate agents, and brokers continue to work hard to create more new Black homeowners in the District of Columbia.
Lledon Stokes, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s Realty, describes the situation.
“In 2021, I was able to help nine Black families achieve the dream of homeownership in D.C.,” Stokes said. “I pride myself on knowing other agents, good negotiating skills, and preparing my clients for homeownership.”
Succeeding Against the Odds
Stokes helped Lindsay McFarlane purchase a condo in Southeast D.C. Lindsay, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, moved to the region 10 years ago.
“Ever since I was younger and we came to D.C. on a family trip, I told my dad that we had to live here,” McFarlane said. “After graduate school, I moved to the District and rented various apartments in different parts of the city, but I didn’t feel complete until I bought my first house.”
For many potential Black homeowners, their first hurdle remains getting approved for a mortgage, followed by successfully making an offer for a home. McFarlane was fortunate when purchasing her home.
“We were the first people to see the property. My agent Lledon was definitely a shark, we put in an offer the same day, and I was able to buy a piece of heaven in D.C.,” McFarlane said.
Newlyweds Ashley and Jamaal Smith, married last year, recently bought a new home in D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood. Jamaal, a native of New Jersey, and Ashley, born in the District, decided to buy in D.C. because they love the sense of community and the neighborhood feel.
“Properties are appreciating and things are close by,” Ashley said. Her husband added, “We love being able to walk to restaurants, stores, the gym, and the park.”
Build a Great Team When Buying a Home in D.C.
A common theme for homeownership goals is preparation. Anyone who may be thinking of buying a home should check their credit, read up on D.C. homebuyer grants and assistance programs, take a HUD-approved homebuying class, identify a good licensed real estate agent and secure a mortgage lender whom they can trust.
“The mortgage process was interesting because my bank would not give me a mortgage at a good rate, and they were cumbersome to deal with, so I had to go to a private mortgage company,” McFarlane said.
A good team can make a world of a difference when buying a home.
“We did not encounter a bidding war; we put an offer on our first house and were successful. We were able to work with a Black lender, Black agent, and Black home inspector. Our team was ready and the process went smoothly,” Jamaal Smith said.
A Message for Policy Makers and Homebuyers
Historical discriminatory lending patterns, limited housing inventory, and rising housing prices put Black homebuyers at a disadvantage. Tracking mortgage data is the key to advancing and measuring the success of strategies and programs to close the racial homeownership gaps in the District of Columbia.
Fortunately, mortgage lending trends are published annually by the federal government. In addition, elected officials, advocacy organizations, and regulatory agencies should publicly discuss the shortcomings. Such discussions will lead to more sustainable and affordable opportunities for Black homebuyers. In the meantime, while the Black homebuyer population is smaller and the obstacles are huge, some are achieving the American Dream of homeownership.
McFarlane’s advice to potential homebuyers is, “Plan, stack your money, figure out where you want to live, and become uncompromising about it. Personally, it feels good to have a place in D.C. that I know is mine.”
Racial Disparities in Lending Chart for Washington, D.C., 2020
(HMDA Data: Federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Data analysis provided by Compliance Tech)
Antoine M. Thompson is a housing policy expert, real estate agent with MMB Realty Group and the former national executive director of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB).