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At the beginning of the month, I participated in an event, hosted by CONVERGENCE Columbus, to celebrate the launch of the Maude Hill Growing Homeownership Fund, an initiative designed to help close the racial homeownership gap in Columbus, Ohio. The energy in the room was palpable. One of the speakers noted how appropriate it was to celebrate the launch of the Fund on the first day of Black History Month because the people in the room were, “making Black history.” The statement was met with head-nods and a chorus of comments like, “yes” and “that’s right.”

There was good reason for excitement. The Fund raised $1 million from grants and philanthropic contributions. It will provide up to $15K per household, has no debt-to-income or credit score requirement, is stackable with other programs, is forgivable after three years of owner occupancy, and includes homebuyer education. Designed as a special purpose credit program, the Fund was created to expand homeownership opportunities for Black and other minority communities in Columbus.

The Fund is an example of the solutions being developed through CONVERGENCE, a collective impact initiative launched by of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) to increase homeownership rates for Black, Hispanic, and other minority communities.

CONVERGENCE brings together public, private, and non-profit partners to bridge four gaps that create barriers to homeownership. First, the information gap causes mortgage-ready or near ready consumers to self-select out of the homebuying process due to myths and misinformation. Second, the trust gap causes reluctance among consumers, especially in minority communities, to trust financial institutions for fear of being mistreated or victimized. Third, the resource gap refers to a lack of awareness of programs and products that can help consumers become homeowners. And fourth, the market gap results from a lack of affordable or quality housing stock.

Last year, my colleague, Steve O’Connor, who is also NHC’s Board Chairman, shared information about CONVERGENCE in NHC’s Member Note, Breaking Down Silos – A Story of CONVERGENCE. He described how, during the development of CONVERGENCE, he saw firsthand how various stakeholders, including real estate professionals, mortgage lenders, housing counselors, community development leaders, and public officials were working toward the same goal, but had never explored the idea of working together. MBA launched CONVERGENCE to create a new framework for collaboration.

When Steve wrote his note, two placed-based initiatives, CONVERGENCE Memphis and CONVERGENCE Columbus, were up and running, and MBA was preparing to launch its third site. Over the past year, CONVERGENCE Philadelphia was launched, with each of the three initiatives developing or enhancing programs and creating new pilot projects.

For example, CONVERGENCE Memphis acquired 11 lots in a predominantly Black neighborhood that will be developed as affordable, entry-level, single-family homes for owner occupancy. The effort is part of a housing supply pilot in partnership with CoreLogic.

CONVERGENCE Columbus developed, a consumer-facing website that includes interactive features like a downpayment assistance matching tool, home repair resources, and a journey map of the homebuying process. The “614” in the name is a nod to the Columbus area code.

CONVERGENCE Columbus also launched the Bloom614 Homebuyer Readiness Program, which provides an innovative, digital coaching experience for aspiring homebuyers through a partnership with CredEvolv, a credit and debt management technology tool.

CONVERGENCE Philadelphia will celebrate its one-year anniversary in March. Over the past year, they have established workstreams and created a strategic plan. Currently they are working to develop a platform for stacking multiple funding sources, including financing endowments, public bonds, and private financing for projects such as vacant land and rehabilitation acquisitions and/or last-mile funding for affordable units.

These impressive accomplishments are just a sampling of the work that is happening across the CONVERGENCE network. The solutions that are developed in each CONVERGENCE location can be shared and replicated in other cities. That means that not only does CONVERGENCE benefit each host city, but it has the potential to offer solutions to other markets, which is truly remarkable. MBA is working to share these solutions and lessons learned through the CONVERGENCE Knowledge Community.

The Knowledge Community will create a shared vision for establishing, growing, and operating CONVERGENCE in different markets. A Resource Library is under development, which will include templates, toolkits, community engagement road maps, and other resources developed from best practices from each city. These resources will support existing sites and serve as a guide for future locations. While the need for solutions may vary by market, the underlying goal of increasing minority homeownership and the benefits of a collective impact model remains constant.

Recently, the ALTA Good Deeds Foundation produced a three minute video about CONVERGENCE Memphis that highlights how the initiative provides tools to support the homeownership journey. It also features a first-time buyer who describes what being a homeowner means to her and her son. The video underscores the value of collaboration and captures the spirit of what CONVERGENCE stakeholders in every city are working towards.

It is that same spirit that I felt during the launch event in Columbus for the Maude Hill Growing Homeownership Fund. Many of the speakers talked about how the Fund will change lives and shared why they are passionate about expanding homeownership opportunities for Black and other underserved communities. I was moved by the speakers and could not help but reflect on my own “why”.

One of my earliest childhood memories is when my family moved into our brand new, double-wide mobile home. Of course, back then, in the late 1970’s, we called it a “trailer”. It sat on an acre of land that my parents purchased from my grandfather. My dad ensured our home was well-maintained and my mother insisted that it was always spotless, well decorated, and ready to receive company. My family loved our home.

Despite the stability and sense of pride we felt, the fact that our house was a mobile home, purchased with a personal loan, meant that my family did not receive all the wealth-building benefits that come with homeownership. It also meant that my parents did not have the type of home purchase experience that would result in knowledge about obtaining a mortgage or working with a real estate agent, that they could pass on to me and my sister when she and I bought our homes.

What my parents lacked in knowledge about certain topics, they more than made up for in other ways. They worked incredibly hard to give me and my sister opportunities they did not have. I am proud of and grateful for them. I owe it to them to leverage my opportunities in a way that can help others.

As a Black person, I am not just working to provide homeownership opportunities to a nameless and faceless group of people. My work is personal. I am working for my children and their friends, for my extended family members, for my Black colleagues whose work supports the housing industry, but who do not own homes themselves, and for all the people who look like me and have not been able to bridge the gaps that keep them from achieving their dream of being a homeowner.

I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. I am simply doing my part to make Black History.


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