Originally published: 1/26/2023
Pittsburgh Post Gazette

As a poor kid growing up in Pittsburgh, my family and I always dreamed of owning our own home. We often passed nice homes in different neighborhoods, such as Squirrel Hill and Regent Square, wishing we could have a piece of that American dream. On April 20, 1997 — after completing the Community Lender Credit program — my wife, son and I were featured in the Tribune Review under the headline “Bringing the Dream Home.”

What a proud moment: to be the first in my family to own a home — and at the age of 26. I swiftly grasped what homeownership does to the psyche. I learned how it is crucial to establishing generational wealth. When I eventually sold that home, I had the ability to leverage the equity to buy my son his first car, pay down debt, and even put away some funds for emergencies.

The sad reality is, for many Black people and other marginalized communities, the dream of owning your own home and the benefits homeownership brings are dreams deferred. Centuries of racialized economic policy have kept Black  Americans from owning homes.

Redlining, for example, meant banks not loaning to Black people trying to buy homes in Black and other neighborhoods the banks marked as financially risky. They were denied even when they were applicants who would have been approved if they were white and moving into a different neighborhood.

I’ve seen the effects as the president of the Urban League of Pittsburgh. The effects of those racialized policies make home-owning harder for Black Americans. Unable to buy homes then thanks to policies like redlining, their families were unable to create the generational wealth that would make home-buying easier today. That must change.

The Black homeownership rate nationwide significantly lags behind that of white homeownership. According to the Pew Foundation, in 2022, 74.6% of White households owned their homes, compared with 45.3% of Black households, a gap of more than 29 points. The Black homeownership rate in Pennsylvania was even lower, at 42.2%, according to the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group.

The local numbers, however are much worse. In the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area, Black homeownership stood at 31.4% in 2019, compared to the non-Hispanic white rate of 73.0% in the Pittsburgh region. That’s a more than 41-point gap.

In June 2021, the Black Homeownership Collaborative Steering Committee, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced a 7-point plan to increase Black homeownership by 3 million households by 2030. (The National Urban League is a member of the committee.) That additional three million Black homeowners would raise the Black homeownership rate more than 10 points.

This initiative, called 3by30, identifies seven tangible, actionable and scalable steps that will make it possible. The seven points, which are to be addressed simultaneously, are:

1. counseling prospective homeowners from before they buy a house to after they’ve bought the house;

2. helping first-time buyers pay their down payment;

3. supporting economic interventions in distressed communities, land use reforms, and public investment in dedicated affordable homes;

4. advocating for interventions such as special purpose credit programs (SPCP) and specified pools for mortgage securitization;

5. recognizing that federal agencies must be fully resourced to effectively implement fair housing and consumer-protection laws;

6. acknowledging the essential nature of early intervention, ex-ante counseling and COVID-19 related homeownership assistance; and

7. identifying and reaching out to, in a deliberate and targeted manner, the millions of Black potential homeowners.

The homeownership rate for all groups has fallen over the past decade, both nationwide and locally. Equity through homeownership is the second-largest source of wealth, making up about 29% of an average household’s wealth. Home equity accumulates over time (unlike many other sources of wealth) and is key to measuring one’s current wealth.

The declining homeownership rate among the Black populace should be of great concern to the entire community, as it is a crucial part of maintaining and building wealth — especially building generational wealth. Building generational wealth is key to permanently lifting entire communities out of poverty.

Efforts like this are not enough to undo centuries of racialized economic policy designed at the detriment of the Black and brown community. We call on local, state, and federal governmental entities to work with private partners to increase the number of good-quality, affordable housing and eliminate the lingering effects of redlining.

Carlos T. Carter is president & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.