It’s a Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. Eleven people, including 10 women of color, have come from workplaces, schools and their homes – each representing a different neighborhood. They’re asking questions, answering questions and cracking jokes. Ken Smith, a retired loan officer and teacher of the group, asks what they’re there to do. Dr. Everlena Holmes answers, “Help get people in a house.”
This group of volunteers is following a curriculum developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re learning all the many facets of preparing for home ownership – like credit scores, budgeting, mortgages, insurance and more. After completing the training, they’ll each be ready to counsel Chattanooga residents on how to prepare to buy a home.
But, why is this group so passionate? And, why are they volunteering their time to do something that’s already available? Put simply: they want to change the language around home buying and empower their neighborhoods to see increased home ownership.
Although it’s not the path for everyone, a neighborhood where most people own their homes is beneficial on several levels. The permanence of home ownership leaves less room for people to move away from the neighborhood, and therefore feel more committed to their own community. It shows a commitment to financially stable living. These things and more are sparks that catch the attention of businesses and local governments who want to invest in thriving areas. For members of the community training group, this is more than urban revitalization – it’s about fair empowerment.
“These residents and neighborhood leaders are homeowners, and they know the value of owning your own home,” said Dr. Holmes. “These future housing counselors know it is possible for you to own your own home and they are looking forward to helping others become homeowners. These trainees know that by becoming a homeowner, you will be able to build wealth within the family and not spend your life paying for someone else’s property.”
According to the Home Mortgage Disclosures Act data, in 2016, there were more than 4,000 white applicants for conventional home loans, compared to less than 200 black applicants in Hamilton County. While we can’t make assumptions or speculate, it’s clear that the possibility of home ownership is being realized vastly less in the black community.
“This group is trying to change the language around home ownership,” said Dr. Eileen Rehberg, director of Data and Analysis at United Way of Greater Chattanooga. “For too long, some communities have not had access to the resources and information they need to pursue owning a home, if they choose. It’s through passionate efforts like this that we’ll change that for Chattanooga neighborhoods.”