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Shereese Turner asked community members for their thoughts about Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity as she considered becoming the organization’s chief program officer.
“Habitat don’t really serve a lot of Black people,” she said she heard.
Turner accepted the job in 2018, where she worked to unravel that perception and became a driving force for a new program to increase homeownership among Black people in the Twin Cities.
“For me to have a very lived experience, but a very distinctive, I would say, different view, was exactly what we needed at that time for us to talk about this program,” said Turner, who is Black. “Fast forward …we are really proud about launching [the new program], because we are responding to those perceptions, and willing to do something about that.”
After conducting extensive research and deeper conversations about the racial gap in homeownership in Minnesota, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity launched the Advance Black Homeownership program in January. The program is designed to serve buyers the nonprofit identifies as Foundational Black Americans, who are defined as Black descendants of enslaved Africans. That demographic faces the largest disparity in homeownership in Minnesota, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit that advocates for and helps construct affordable housing. The Twin Cities chapter is the first affiliate in the nation to offer this kind of homebuying support and credit program that is explicitly race-based, according to Robyn Bipes-Timm, chief strategy officer at Twin Cities Habitat.
“This is really the first time a special purpose credit program has a racial lens. And this is really to support that demographic that we were able to prove in our program that we had not served very well. Or I would say, they didn’t have much success,” Turner said.
Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and the Minnesota Homeownership Center were awarded $1 million last month by the Federal National Mortgage Association to create the program. Some funds from a $13.5 million grant philanthropist MacKenzie Scott awarded Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity will also be used to support the program.
Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity broke down data by the people served in its programs, and found that 85 to 90 percent of them identified as people of color. More than 60 percent of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity program participants identified as East or West African immigrants.
Five to 7 percent of the non-profit’s homebuyers identified as Foundational Black Americans. Turner said the data was a turning point for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.
“We struggled with this [data] for a little bit, because it was an aha moment,” said Turner. “Who we thought we were serving was not who we were serving, and that was because Habitat didn’t quite understand… the difference in journeys.”
Across the state, nearly 78 percent of white Minnesotans are homeowners, while less than a third of Black Minnesotans own a home, according to 2021 U.S. Census Data. Years of discriminatory housing practices, such as redlining and racial covenants that banned Black Minnesotans from purchasing homes in many neighborhoods, left behind financial trauma and excluded many Black Americans from generational wealth.
The Advance Black Homeownership program hopes to turn those numbers around. It provides potential homebuyers with financial coaches to address the needs of Foundational Black Americans, such as healing from financial trauma and learning how to manage finances.
The program offers more flexible debt and credit criteria for buyers seeking to obtain a loan to buy a house.* It also gives each homebuyer up to $50,000 to go towards their down payment on a house.
The support and services provided in the program have no time limit, so participants are not required to purchase a house within a timeline. Participants can purchase a home in the seven-county metro area, including Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, and Scott county, among others.
Angela Gladney, 50, is one of the first 36 participants in the program. A majority of participants are women. About 30 participants have children ages 5 and under, according to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s been very enlightening for me, because like I said, there are things that I have learned that I just didn’t know that existed,” Gladney said. “Like redlining, I didn’t know that was a thing. How certain barriers and codes were put in place for people in other races.”
Gladney is a first-time homebuyer looking for a house for herself, her son, and an extended family member. Before joining the program, she said, she applied and got approved for a traditional mortgage from Wells Fargo, but felt the amount would not allow her to find a house she wanted.
“When I went through the traditional homeownership, you know, they’d say, ‘Oh, well, you don’t qualify for this.’ They don’t tell you exactly why. Or they’ll say, ‘Oh, your interest rate will be this amount.’ They don’t go into the why’s and how you can change your narrative to get to a better outcome,” she said.
She said her financial coach through the Advance Black Homeownership Program, Melissa Hadley, has helped her navigate questions while also acting as her support system.
Hadley, who has been in the mortgage industry for about two decades, said her passion is serving people and supporting others on their homeownership journey.
“I hope that people are more prepared not only financially but mentally, emotionally for homeownership, and that not only we get our clients to the closing table, but we also prepare them to successfully maintain or sustain homeownership,” Hadley said.
Applications for new participants are accepted on a rolling basis, and are expected to open this summer, according to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. For more information about how to determine whether you qualify for the program and how to enroll, visit the organization’s website.
*CORRECTION: The story has been updated to indicate that the program offers more flexible debt and credit criteria for homebuyers.