D.C. mayor’s latest goal: 20,000 new Black homeowners by 2030

Over the summer, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser convened a group of local advocates and city officials and tasked them with an ambitious directive: to come up with suggestions to increase the number of Black residents who own houses in the District, which has experienced a net loss of Black homeowners in the past decade.

On Monday, the Black Homeownership Strike Force helped Bowser’s administration set a new long-term goal to create 20,000 new Black homeowners in the District by 2030. Members of the strike force said that goal, and the 10 recommendations they put forth to help the city reach it, will help the city overcome decades of historical, discriminatory housing policies once common throughout the United States that continue to fuel inequitable homeownership rates today.

About 34 percent of Black D.C. residents own their homes — a decrease from 46 percent in 2005, according to American Community Survey data cited in the report. Meanwhile, White homeownership in the city increased from 47 percent to 49 percent between 1990 and 2019.

At the Howard Theater in Northwest Washington, strike force members told Bowser (D) the new goal was the right mix of achievable and ambitious; they arrived at the 20,000 number after robust debate and feedback from the public. For the Rev. Graylan Hagler, the strike force co-chair who years ago co-founded the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America that offers mortgage programs to help new homeowners, the conversations required participants to look past market rhetoric that says certain people are not ready to pay a mortgage.

“It’s not that folks aren’t mortgage-ready; it’s about the roadblocks that are in people’s way that prevent them from getting the mortgage,” said Hagler, who is a senior minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “We needed to figure out how to tear down that wall so that people are able to really get in there and focus on everyday working families and poor folks in our city, and how they can get in the fray and be able to compete.”

Racial covenants and disparities in mortgage lending, through tactics such as redlining, have presented barriers for Black homeowners and fueled inequity in homeownership in the District, according to the strike force’s 28-page report.

The percentage of city residents who are Black has declined to less than 50 percent in the past decade, falling from about 70 percent in 1970, according to the report. Data from the American Community Survey cited in the report estimates a net loss of 5,000 Black homeowners from 2010 to 2020.

To remedy these trends, strike force members recommended that Bowser boost resources to assist residents in transferring homes to their children and heirs; provide technical support to Black homeowners who need to rehabilitate their homes; create a program specifically for Black homeowners at risk of foreclosure; and find ways to accelerate zoning and permitting for affordable housing projects.

Another recommendation called on the city to use $10 million that Bowser budgeted for the strike force to create a public-private fund that would offer units to Black home buyers at various affordability levels.

“Ten million dollars was a great commitment, but we knew not necessarily enough to accomplish the goals we were after,” Hagler said. Bowser agreed with his sentiment, telling reporters later that the strike force’s recommendations include “practical, needed things,” and that her administration’s first task will be to determine whether the proposals are “exhaustive enough.”

Bowser said she will also determine how much the recommendations cost — and their legality — before incorporating them into the budget she presents to the D.C. Council next year. (Bowser, who is up for reelection this year and won the Democratic primary in June, is widely expected to win).

Their ideas, she says, probably will build upon some of the city’s other programs to help residents stay in the city — most notably the Home Purchase Assistance Program, which expanded on Oct. 1 to offer first-time home buyers a benefit of up to $202,000, up from $80,000. Another District initiative provides city government employees with interest-free loans and matching funds for down payments and closing costs related to their first home purchase.

But Bowser said she was particularly interested in exploring more ways that the city can help potential homeowners compete for properties with the region’s many wealthy investors, a dilemma raised repeatedly by strike force members during Monday’s conversation.

“I think we need to find some other ways to attack that,” she added.

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