Board member Erica Page Muhammad writes about fair housing and homeownership from her perspective as a Black woman. She recounts her own story and those from other Black women and how homeownership can be a complicated subject in the Black community.
Will housing ever be fair? As a Black woman who grew up in a pretty well-to-do family, "housing," or I'm going to refer to it as "home", was definitely something I took for granted. Shit, I had my own room, which was right down the hall from the game room. Upstairs each of my sisters had their own room, my Dad had his office space, and our yard was full of lush trees lining almost an acre of land. We lived seven houses down from the clubhouse, where the tennis courts and pool were located; life was good! Well, we made life good. Somehow in this anomaly of being raised in Spring, Texas, we were the first Black family in the subdivision. How did my parents choose to raise their three Black daughters right smack in the middle of suburban white America? Any other Black families that have had similar lives know the answer to this question. Better schools, better neighborhoods = white people/integration.
My Personal Housing History
Let's rewind a little, and let me tell you about my parent's childhood experience. Mr. & Mrs. Page were both born and raised in New Jersey. Both being the only child of extremely loving families, their experience of "home/housing" was interestingly common to Black folks who migrated to the north. They both came from a family of generational landowners. The norm for them was to own land. My grandparents and great-grandparents owned their own land. They had their own businesses. The family-owned acres of farmland producing all that the family needed to thrive without assistance from the government or the white landowners. They created opportunities for each other within the abundance that they already had. This mentality was passed on to generations to come. It became the norm or the standard in my family to have your own, create your own dream and live it. This entire Black utopia existed during the time after the Housing Act of 1937 was enacted.
Statistics now show that the majority of the 40% of Black homeowners come from families that are generational landowners.
The 1970's & 1980's Housing - The Great White Flight
Fast forward to the late 70's early 80's the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was in full effect. Now Black and brown families could get a mortgage insured. But was it enough? Was it too late? A little Black girl was growing up on the west side of Chicago, K town to be exact, with her parents, three sisters, and a brother. They had just moved into a sprawling bungalow purchased from a lovely white family. This purchase was a product of the great white flight. Black families were moving into homes, taking advantage of the American dream, and beginning the journey of creating generational wealth for their families. Well, the little Black girl saw the struggle attached to homeownership for her parents. The struggle of keeping up with the mortgage, house maintenance, and other homeowner's strife was reeling in the back of this little Black girl's mind. She watched her family spend more time discouraged about the burden of owning this piece of the pie than actually enjoying it. This shaped her mind into thinking that being a homeowner isn't a dream; it's a nightmare!
At the same time, on the other side of the country in New York, just across the Tappan Zee Bridge, another little Black girl was in elementary school, living her best life amongst friends. Friends whose parents were doctors and immigrants with beautiful Spanish accents were living life to the fullest. At school, they were equals at home, another story. She told the story of how she loved going to her friend's house because they lived in an actual mansion. Everyone in the family was nice; everything smelled, tasted, and felt like what she would imagine heaven to be like. She never, ever, ever imagined herself or her family to be homeowners. "It was for rich, white people. My family, we could never have that". This little Black girl went on to try and create a different reality for her children, but deep down inside, she still doubts that she'll ever have "The American dream."
My Home Story
A little more about my personal housing story…this mentality of creating our own wealth seemed so attainable to me, despite all of the racist practices that were going on around us. Nothing could change my goal or ideal situation until something actually did. I found myself in a situation or a marriage to someone who didn't view home through the same lens that I did, despite what he had as an example. He saw his grandfather, a Doctor and the first Black real estate investor in Evanston; yet he still couldn't wrap around in his mind the idea of being a homeowner? What? Why not? I mean, if our household hadn't doubled in size, we would have been more than comfortable in our two bedrooms, one-bath condo. Great schools, wonderful community, but we were bursting at the seams. It was time to upgrade. Well, he couldn't do it. He couldn't imagine signing a contract and becoming a homeowner for his family… So we went back to renting. This was right at the peak of predatory lending practices in the early 2000s.
Experience Shapes Us
All of these examples of housing stem from different mentalities of little Black girls. When you are given an example of success in the form of happy, loving, connected communities, you will thrive. When the standard becomes something other than that, you will see the struggle; the disease, the hard part, and that will become your meter in which you measure life. Black people, there has always been struggle in our lives; the only option is to create a different reality for you and yours.
Families, talk to your children about wealth and wealth building.
If your experience was less than happy, show them examples of those you find successful and pass the baton of knowledge, so they can start to understand the importance of generational wealth.
Yes, people of color will have to work harder and smarter than our white counterparts, but we always do. Why not do it for the benefit of self? Start to focus on obtainable goals, take advantage of any available resources such as housing counseling, financial empowerment courses, and then get to work. Naturally, you will rise to the top. And dearest white people, please kindly just get out the way.
Holistic housing from the desk of a Black girl