Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) speaks at the State of Housing in Black America issue forum while panelists Maurice Jourdain-Earl, Nikitra Bailey and Mark Alston look on. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) speaks at the State of Housing in Black America issue forum while panelists Maurice Jourdain-Earl, Nikitra Bailey and Mark Alston look on. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

One may not often think of a rapper like Waka Flocka Flame, former New Edition singer Ronnie DeVoe Jr., or a former player in the National Basketball Association like Bobby Simmons when considering the importance of real estate ownership.

But these men from the world of music and sports numbered those who spoke during the State of Housing in Black America issue form, Sept. 12, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.

The entertainers, along with politicians and experts in real estate and housing policy, participated in the forum on Black homeownership whose rate of 40.6 percent remains far below whites at 73.1 percent according to U.S. Census data. Numerous studies have shown Blacks seeking to buy homes face higher interest rates and lower approval rates for home loans even when they have incomes and assets comparable in value or assessment to whites.

The panelists talked about these disparities but pointed to the need for Blacks to become homeowners, one of the cornerstones of wealth.

“I grew up in the streets of Boston,” DeVoe said. “I was not supposed to make it out. But I did and when I sang with New Edition, I bought my family a house in Los Angeles in 1987 for $200,000 and sold it for $400,000 in 1991.

“I developed a passion in real estate even though I was touring with the band at that time. I decided to move to Atlanta, the Black Mecca, in the late 1990s to learn more about real estate.”

DeVoe received his real estate license in 2002 and said he prospered in the field until the Great Recession hit in 2008. Still, he persevered and now co-owns DeVoe Broker Associates and has embraced the profession.

“Rapping is great but this is more important,” he said.

Flame articulated a solid financial truth to the audience in his presentation.

“You should buy a house before you buy a car,” he said. “A car goes down in value when it leaves the showroom but a house goes up in value.”

Flame said he had to become financially astute at the age of 18 when he received his first performance check.

“I had a $98,000 Bank of America check and I went to the bank to get it cashed,” he said. “The people at the bank pulled me aside and made suggestions on how better to use that check rather than cashing and spending it all.”

Simmons, who presently works as career counselor for the NBA Players Association, said he became the first member of his family to own a home. He owns Monarchy Investments LLC, a real estate company in Chicago, and leads a foundation which helps children in Chicago attend his college alma mater, DePaul University. Simmons says real estate “has given me the opportunity to help others.”

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) served as the honorary host of the forum and told the packed room that gentrification has become a reality in many cities, including the District.

“I know a man who bought a house in this neighborhood in 1993 for $130,000,” he said. “He recently sold it for $2 million. That was a good business decision. It is better to own your home and rent your car, not the other way around.”

Stephen Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, S.C., participated in the panel and said his city has become proactive in helping its residents, regardless of color, to become homeowners.

“In Columbia, we have a homeownership program supported by the city where you can buy a home for $100,000,” the mayor said. “You can’t do that in D.C. We have to take advantage of opportunities to build wealth and we can make that happen.”

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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