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Habitat for Humanity works to expand Black homeownership in the Twin Cities

(Elijah Todd-Walden/BLCK Press)

Habitat for Humanity Twin Cities is pioneering a new way to provide resources and support for descendants of enslaved people looking to buy a home.

The nonprofit is moving to address specific housing disparities within the Twin CIties metro area and providing significant resources to African Americans looking to buy a home of their own.

“Home ownership is the one piece that can really help curtail crime, and have less issues for public safety. It adds more value to our schools. You feel more connected to your community,” Chief Program Officer Shereese Turner said. “I understand the interconnection between housing or home ownership that is the glue that keeps all these other things together.”

Habitat for Humanity just started the "Advancing Black Homeownership" program in October. It provides consistent coaching for people going through the home buying process, community building within a cohort of homebuyers, and unrestricted financial aid up to $50,000.

This new outlook at home ownership, and addressing the disparities in communities of color is made possible by a $13.5 million donation to Habitat for Humanity made by Mackenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, made in 2021. Chief Strategy Officer Robyn Bipes-Timms, says the donation has allowed Habitat for Humanity to shift towards building a strong foundation for Black home ownership in the Twin Cities.

“The U.S. system has been more predatory to African American households who have been here for generations. It’s much harder to repair bad credit than if you were a new immigrant who has a blank slate,” Bipes-Timms said. “So we have a very explicit set of barriers that we were able to identify that was keeping foundational Black homeowners from completing their home ownership journey.”

The program is currently working with a cohort of 95 people. Bipes-Timms says it’s not designed to be a one-size-fits-all program. She hopes it inspires other mortgage lenders to reexamine how they provide mortgages.

Chief Strategy Officer Shereese Turner said that ultimately Habitat for Humanity is in the passenger's seat, while the homebuyers are in the driver’s seat.

“It’s important that we’re with them throughout the duration of their mortgage,” Turner said. “We can easily get people into homes, but we want to see successful homeownership.”

The program comes at the same time as St. Paul is establishing a fund to pay descendants of the Rondo neighborhood up to $100,000 to help them with home ownership. Bipps-Timms said that receiving aid from the City of St. Paul would not disqualify someone from receiving aid from Habitat for Humanity.

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