As I write during this holiday season, I am reminded that just under 800,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. And now, we are faced with a new variant, Omicron, which has arrived on American shores.
Throughout the District, breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables have empty chairs, each representing loved ones who died prematurely due to COVID-19. Mothers and fathers are attending parent-teacher conferences, but now as single parents. Children grow up without their grandparents and some, without mothers or fathers. Favorite teachers are no longer with us. Even children are victims of the pandemic.
Residents in Wards 7 and 8, hit hardest by the pandemic, are being threatened with foreclosure due to job loss or reduced income despite federal, local, and private sector programs and funding designed to prevent such from occurring.
Yet, this season also represents one of hope. Even for those in their darkest hours. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Or as my late grandmother, Iva Major Hopkins, used to say, quoting the Bible, “This too shall pass.”
Angel Johnson, 34, of Washington, D.C., is a single mother of three sons, ages 7, 11 and 16.
In April 2020, four months after the start of the global pandemic, and nine years after being hired, Johnson lost her job as an administrator. She and twelve other employees were terminated that day.
After losing her job, the number one concern for Johnson became how to continue providing for her family, including keeping a roof over their heads with continued on-time monthly mortgage payments of $1,800. She received a short-term severance package and collected unemployment insurance, but the remainder of 2020 was a struggle.
“I received each of the stimulus checks from the federal government which helped me a lot. But it was a very stressful time for me. At the beginning of 2021, I fell behind on my mortgage payments and I was worried about foreclosure. But there were programs that provided assistance,” says Johnson.
In mid-October, ATTOM, licensor of the nation’s most comprehensive foreclosure data and parent company to RealtorTrac, released its Q3 2021 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. It shows that “there were 45,717 U.S. properties with foreclosure filings – default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions – up 34% from the previous quarter and 68% from a year ago.”
The report further “shows there were a total of 19,609 U.S. properties with foreclosure filings in September 2021, up 24% from the previous month and 102% from September 2020.”
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), in July 2020, encouraged legislators to enact legislation to implement foreclosure prevention measures, data collection and prioritize reporting in order to minimize preventable home foreclosures.
Black and White Wealth Gap
During COVID-19, Black homeownership has stalled. The Chicago Sun Times has referred to this trend as the “epidemic after the epidemic.”
In a June 2021 study on the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites by the Center for American Progress, the data shows that COVID-19 has hurt Black homeowners at a greater rate than those owned by Whites. This wealth gap did not come about because of the global pandemic but has been in existence for years for a variety of reasons, namely racism, and its impact on every aspect of the lives of Black Americans:
In the study titled “ Wealth Matters: The Black-White Wealth Gap Before and During the Pandemic, ” key findings by authors Christian E. Weller and Richard Figueroa include:
- Many more White households than Black were able to use their savings during the pandemic to fill financial gaps left by job losses and/or higher health costs.
- During the pandemic, a higher percentage of Black households had to borrow money than that of Whites.
- At the end of 2020, the Black homeownership rate was 44.1%, virtually the same as the 44% who owned homes during the same period the year before. During that same period of COVID-19, the homeownership rate for Whites rose from 73.7% to 74.5%.
Foreclosures in the DMV
Preston V. Lee, Jr., former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Policy at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Clinton Administration and a former official at Freddie Mac, says “DMV trends are about the same as national trends when it comes to the effects of COVID 19 on foreclosures in this area. Foreclosures are likely to rise again as Federal and State government programs and moratoria and private sector foreclosure forbearance programs designed to help homeowners deal with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic have begun to expire.”
Lee continues, “While the new increases in foreclosures appear dramatic, they aren’t really because we are still far below pre-pandemic numbers. Also, we are in fact coming off extreme lows in foreclosures that were created by the forbearance programs. New foreclosures, also known as starts, usually number around 40,000 per month. They fell to as low as 3,000 to 4,000 in the first year of the pandemic, when forbearance programs were in full force. In Virginia and the District, credit can be given to a large, stable, and highly compensated local workforce consisting of a significant number of federal, state, and local employees.”
Private Sector Resources for Homeowners
“We’ve seen how the pandemic has impacted DC, particularly in neighborhoods of color. At Bank of America, we have a long-standing commitment to support the communities we serve, which includes helping put people on the path to affordable homeownership through a combination of specially designed products, resources, and expertise,” said Derrick N. Perkins, Bank of America Market Executive for Greater Washington, D.C. Other helpful BofA programs are:
At Bank of America (BofA), there are several programs that District resident homeowners will find helpful during the pandemic. They include the America’s Home Grant and Down Payment Grant Programs, which are part of the BofA’sCommunity Homeownership Commitment, which was tripled in last February to $15 billion.
Other helpful and related BofA programs include:
- America’s Home Grant – Lender credit of up to $7,500 for closing costs or rate buydown. Not repaid. https://www.bankofamerica.com/mortgage/affordable-housing-programs/
- Down Payment Grant – Consumers can get up to $10,000 or 3% of purchase price. Not repaid. https://www.bankofamerica.com/mortgage/affordable-housing-programs.)
A Season of Hope
The season of hope is represented by District residents who dedicate their lives every day to improving the plight of those in our community who are struggling with housing issues during the pandemic.
One such individual is Wanda D. Lockridge, Chief of Staff to Ward 8 Council-member Trayon White. She says, “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our office has worked to keep our residents, and especially our seniors and children, in their apartments and homes. We have worked with our constituents, for example, by staying in daily contact with DHS (Department of Human Services) and DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) to ensure that STAYDC applications were being processed and assisting them with troubleshooting where needed. Our office will continue to work with Ward 8 residents to minimize, as best as we can, the negative impact of COVID-19 in their lives.”
“It’s well known that homeownership is one of the major pillars of wealth creation in our country and the lack of financial literacy and economic opportunity has effectively barred many of the area’s Black residents from pursuing this goal. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has only exacerbated long-standing social and systemic inequities — like the lack of homeownership — that have kept many from achieving the American dream,” said John Hope Bryant, Founder and CEO of Operation HOPE.
“This disparity only further broadens the generational wealth gap and results in what many economists are calling “equity theft.” It’s imperative that we restore hope to our communities through social programs and pathways to homeownership that are accompanied with a financial literacy curriculum.” Bryant added, “When we are empowered with increased financial opportunities then we’ll begin to see a more level playing field and a clear path to prosperity.”
As for Angel Johnson, she is temporarily employed and looking forward to the holiday season. She is also very optimistic about the future. “Last December, I had to explain to my sons that Christmas would be different. This year, it will be better. In addition to securing permanent employment in 2022, I also want to explore interior decorating.”