Sahan Journal held a community conversation on August 10, 2021. From left to right: Anisa Hajimumin, Hibah Ansari, Roxanny Armendariz, Johanna Osman, Hodan Ahmed.

In May, Sahan Journal reporter Hibah Ansari began reporting on a unique challenge that Muslim homebuyers were facing amid Minnesota’s real estate frenzy: they were having difficulties finding interest-free loans and downpayment assistance. Observant Muslims avoid engaging in ribah, or interest, based on an Islamic rule that prohibits profiting from lending or receiving money. Of course, this means that signing on for a typical mortgage from a bank is entirely off the table. 

Enter the world of halal—or religiously compliant—financing and Islamic loans, and things can get complicated very quickly. Information on halal loans is sparse and difficult to find, and even harder to understand. There are several different types, all of which create partnerships between the lender and the homebuyer.

To understand what community members needed to know about this particular topic, we published a call-out asking Muslim home-buyers in Minnesota about the challenges they faced while buying a home. And we received enough engagement and unique experiences shared by Muslim community members to warrant a full-blown explainer, written by Hibah, on how Islamic loans work, who offers them in Minnesota, and which real estate agents are familiar with the process. 

Both Muslim and non-Muslim Minnesotans tuned into this coverage. ”I’m currently exploring my options for home-buying, and this article gave a lot of information for Shariah compliant loan providers,” shared one user on Facebook. ”I learned something new. Interesting!” shared another on Instagram. The explainer also prompted reshares from prominent Muslim community leaders, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar, and community organizations, such as Muslim Advocates, reiterating how essential this guide was for Muslim buyers who faced difficulties navigating the ever-growing world of halal financing. 

The responses and overall support we received prompted us to think beyond Minnesota’s Muslim community. Minnesota is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to racial disparities in homeownership. According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership, 25 percent of Black households own their homes, 49 percent of Native American, 50 percent of Latino and 60 percent of Asian, compared to 77 percent of white households who own their home. Various immigrant communities face added barriers to homeownership. If that’s true, what options do they have when it comes to building generational wealth? What local and state resources are available to them to overcome these barriers? 

We made this the focus of our first community conversation on August 10, 2021, moderated by Hibah and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. We invited several different panelists, each bringing their own unique perspective based on the wealth of experience working directly with communities of color in Minnesota:

  • Roxanny Armendariz, Financial Counselor and Educator with the Neighborhood Development Alliance. The Neighborhood Development Alliance works primarily with low income and Latino residents on housing, through counseling and educational workshops.
  • Anisa Hajimumin, the Assistant Commissioner for Immigrants and Refugee Affairs at Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Her office oversees overall immigrant and refugee affairs in the state, addressing challenges they face including language access, employment and training, workforce development, and business startup and technical development.
  • Johanna Osman, Executive Director of Sakan Community Resource. Sakan Community Resource is a Bloomington-based nonprofit that provides financial education and assistance to help Muslims in the Twin Cities establish financial stability.
  • Hodan Ahmed, Chase branch manager in the Ventura Village neighborhood. She regularly works with underrepresented communities to find solutions to their financial needs, from financial literacy to homeownership. 

The goal of this discussion was to illuminate the challenges that Minnesota’s communities of color face when beginning that process of building generational wealth through homeownership. We heard questions, comments and experiences from Muslims, Latino immigrants, and low-income residents who require down-payment assistance, but don’t qualify due to a low credit score. We didn’t stop at the challenges: we heard from Neighborhood Development Alliance, JPMorgan Chase, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and Sakan Community Resource on the local workshops, resources, and programs available to community members. 

The portion of the conversation dedicated to the audience was flooded with questions around building or improving credit, the data on homeownership rates for specific immigrant groups, contributors to generational wealth gaps (like education, income etc.), and whether any solutions to correct these gaps exist in Minnesota.

Now, what’s next? Well, I’ve got good news to share with you. 

First: We recorded last week’s discussion. You can watch it in full below. 

YouTube video

Second: We’re planning to continue this series of community conversations on building generational wealth for Minnesota’s communities of color. But, we need your help to plan more focused conversations. What do YOU need to know? Please take a few moments to fill out the survey below.

Aala Abdullahi is the innovation editor at Sahan Journal, where she leads the newsroom's community engagement efforts. An Al Jazeera and CBC alum, her passion lies most in using concrete data and audience...