In August 2021, The Washington Informer launched the Our House D.C. Newsletter, a monthly platform designed to document and examine factors contributing to the loss of housing among African Americans and marginalized residents – including seniors – in Wards 7 and 8.
Our House D.C. opened dialogue and provided critical resources to readers that assisted homeowners, their communities, and local government agencies in practical solutions to a myriad of housing concerns. We served not only as ambassadors, of sort, to homeowners, but also found ourselves learning a lot about great programs and networks that aid homeowners. We have gone from ideas and assumptions to research and investigation – sometimes with surprising results. Our House, D.C. made a difference in the way conversations about homeownership in Wards 7 and 8 take place. Perhaps most importantly, The Washington Informer’s Our House newsletters have helped put these considerations into spaces where improvements and policy changes occur.
While recently visiting my mother, I asked her to define “generational wealth.” She immediately spoke of the importance of living within your means, paying a mortgage, not rent, and “saving, saving, saving.” Mom’s perspective, I found, was similar to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Marcia Fudge and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young. They, and others interviewed for the newsletter, held a narrow (but prolific) definition of generational wealth: leaving a home for your children. This was also the definition their parents utilized.
Since assuming the position of Managing Editor of Our House D.C., I, even as a homeowner, have gained new insight while exploring Black homeownership in the District.
For example, when we first began this journey, there was an assumption that the DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) removed residents from their homes without due process because of property tax delinquencies. However, we learned that local government has a detailed process in place to prevent such from occurring only as a last resort and only after extensive efforts have been made to resolve outstanding tax liabilities with homeowners.
We also learned just how important making and implementing sound financial decisions are to generational wealth building. Failure to do so can prove costly when passing on property to children and grandchildren.
“When real property is cited for violation of local housing ordinances, citations can lead to significantly higher real property rates and eventually a tax sale by the government,” according to Deborah D. Boddie, a D.C.-based estate planning attorney, and real estate broker.
Our House D.C. reporting also highlighted the realities of homeownership that fall beyond mere definitions, rumors, and conjecture. Such was the case with our investigation of Brittany Bennett, whose dream of moving with her sons into their first home on Talbert Street in Southeast, turned nightmarish when poor quality construction forced her to vacate. Yet, even after leaving, Bennett was still required to meet their mortgage payments and pay condominium fees.
We are making a difference. Mildred Chappelle is an elderly Black woman with dementia. She is bed-ridden and requires full-time health care support. Her nephew, Dr. Edward Chappelle, made the difficult decision to move Mildred in with her sister, and away from her home in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 60 years. The house was purchased by Mildred’s parents 96 years ago. The move, however, did not come without significant tax consequences. Over time, the D.C. government deemed Mildred’s property vacant and abandoned, exposing the Chapelle’s to substantial tax liabilities amounting upwards to $100,000. The chance that the property could be lost at a tax sale became more real every day, despite efforts by Dr. Chapelle to maintain the property and others owned by his aunt, a former real estate professional. The family of Mildred Chappelle had their home property characterization by OTR changed as a result of our story last fall.
With Our House D.C., we are also making a difference in the community by highlighting issues confronting Black homeowners and providing invaluable tools and resources to keep them in their homes. Our work is not done, however. There are other topics to be explored, such as gentrification, and additional community conversations to facilitate – similar to our event with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) last March.
It is my hope that the newsletter grows and reaches more people, but also let us continue the journalism that improves the lives of the people we reach.
Our House: Keeping Homes Black-owned in D.C.’s Wards 7 & 8, a bi-monthly newsletter published by The Washington Informer, in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity. The year-long project was made possible through a Google News Innovation grant to address the pressures of gentrification faced by Black D.C. residents who seek to own or maintain a home in hopes of building and preserving generational wealth.