When the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) launched its Affordable Housing Initiatives program in 2019, we made addressing the racial homeownership gap a top priority. While we would continue to pursue policy remedies to this challenge, we believed that a market-based approach could provide new insights, ideas, and solutions. Thus, we launched two place-based, multi-year, collective impact initiatives focused on testing new ways to reach aspiring minority homeowners. These efforts, called “CONVERGENCE,” involve public, private, and non-profit partners working together to raise awareness and educate consumers (and practitioners) about existing resources, programs, and products, and, importantly, to bring new innovations to the market.
The concept behind CONVERGENCE was born from an extensive “listening” tour that I conducted during 2019 with a wide variety of stakeholders, including real estate professionals, mortgage lenders, housing counselors, community development leaders, and public officials. A key theme emerged: that while lots of great work was being done, most of it was being done in silos. This reality hit home for me during two meetings that I hosted in Memphis that year to discuss a potential partnership to address the city’s racial homeownership gap. In those meetings, it became readily apparent that although they were all working toward the same goal, many had never met in person or even discussed the idea of working together. I saw firsthand the “fractured” work that so many people had mentioned during my listening tour. I also saw the extraordinary potential of having so many talented and passionate professionals collaborating with a common “playbook” that leveraged their individual expertise and relationships.
Capitalizing on the interest from a diverse constellation of stakeholders, MBA immediately began organizing its place-based pilots. In March 2020, MBA launched CONVERGENCE Memphis in partnership with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA). In July 2021, we launched CONVERGENCE Columbus in partnership with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University. This transition from concept to reality was possible because of our committed partners. Building on that early momentum, both efforts now involve over 50 organizations and over 120 individuals from all sectors of the affordable housing ecosystem. While each city has its own strategic plan, they are focused on common challenges, namely four key “gaps” that often prevent minorities from becoming homeowners.
The first gap is the knowledge gap, with many “mortgage ready” and “near ready” consumers self-selecting out of the homebuying process due to myths and misinformation. The second gap is the trust gap between these consumers and the formal financial network, a gap rooted in decades of systemic neglect and mistreatment. The third gap is the resource gap, where consumers (and market professionals) are often unaware of existing programs and products that can help aspiring homeowners, or they don’t know how to access them. The fourth gap, and admittedly the most challenging, is the “market gap,” namely the lack of affordable or quality housing stock. While these gaps are common to almost every market, we are looking to tailor solutions in Memphis and Columbus based on their unique circumstances…and eventually create “solution sets” that can be adopted in other markets.
MBA is excited that CONVERGENCE Philadelphia is scheduled to go live in March of 2023, with generous support from cornerstone partners Wells Fargo and Radian. In the coming year, MBA plans to facilitate more formalized “knowledge sharing” among the partners in Memphis, Columbus, and Philadelphia, both to expedite the progress in those communities and to develop “best practices” to help better inform collaborative efforts across the nation.
MBA’s role in CONVERGENCE is to bring local leaders together around a shared vision and action plan, add the expertise and resources of key national partners, and then ensure a stable infrastructure is in place for the sustained efforts needed to make a real impact. After serving as a catalyst and convener, MBA transitions to being a highly engaged stakeholder once “exit velocity” is achieved and a local stakeholder is ready to manage a CONVERGENCE site. For these efforts to be successful, the local community must be the long-term owners and leaders, which is why in both Memphis and Columbus, separate 501c3 nonprofits now serve as the day-to-day managers of the work.
The progress so far has been encouraging with both quantitative and qualitative successes. We are seeing positive trends in the data for these markets, as well as more formalized collaboration around awareness, education, and access to key resources. Importantly, we are preparing to test some innovations in 2023. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to these challenges, but we are seeing strong momentum toward new solutions.
While CONVERGENCE has brought a structured and systematic approach to collaboration, the basic recipe can be replicated by any collection of committed stakeholders with some dedicated leaders facilitating it. The silos that I encountered in Memphis in October of 2019 were present to different degrees in both Columbus and Philadelphia. These silos are a byproduct of an ecosystem that doesn’t naturally encourage cross-sector collaboration – intentional efforts are needed to facilitate it. In addition to CONVERGENCE, this sort of collaboration is also being done through the Black Homeownership Collaborative, Key Unlocks Dreams, and other related efforts. These new models for working together can provide valuable roadmaps to help finally close the racial homeownership gap.
About the Author:
Steve O’Connor is the Senior Vice President of Affordable Housing Initiatives at the Mortgage Bankers Association. Currently, he also serves as the Chair of the National Housing Conference.