Church offers no-interest loans to increase Black homeownership in Contra Costa County
on December 11, 2022
Even though she was gainfully employed at a bio-pharma company, had built up some savings and made money on the side as a travel adviser, Astrid Heim had a hard time becoming a Bay Area homeowner.
That changed in February, when she found out about interest-free loans through the Black Wealth Builders Fund. And now, at age 36, Heim owns a home in Concord.
“This program took a lot of weight off my shoulders because, socially, buying in the Bay Area is really hard,” she said.
The loan program was developed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, when Arlington Community Church in Kensington started an anti-racist group where members would discuss racism and how they could address it.
They started reading books and talking to community leaders to come up with a project that would help the Black community. Nikki Beasley, a retired Black banker, suggested that they raise money to offer zero-interest loans for first-time Black homebuyers to use toward down payments.
Last year, the church teamed up with the Richmond Community Foundation to found the Black Wealth Builders Fund. To date, the fund has raised $275,000, out of which 21 prospective buyers have received interest-free loans of up to $20,000. The program has helped people like Heim buy houses in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and it could expand to other parts of the Bay Area.
“For most people, their homes are their main source of wealth, especially generational wealth. So, you pass a home down to your sons and daughters. If you don’t have a home, you don’t have any way to build wealth like that,” said Susan Russell, a church member and co-founder of Black Wealth Builders. “And so Black people, because of redlining and discriminatory housing policies, have been shut out from that source of wealth forever.”
The loans do not have to be repaid until people sell or refinance their homes, Russell said.
She noted that while protections against housing discrimination were expanded in 1968, it still happens.
Redfin, a real estate brokerage, found in a 2021 survey that Black Americans are more likely to face hurdles when purchasing a home. The survey said that these findings suggest the financial standard for becoming a homeowner is higher for Black people than for white people, and it noted that while nearly 74% of white Americans own their homes, just 45% of Black Americans do.
Rosalind Welch, Richmond Community Foundation spokesperson, said many people who grew up in Contra Costa County and would like to buy a home there can’t, because of high home prices, which require high down payments.
“My little sister lives in Patterson because she and her fiancé couldn’t afford any homes here in the Bay Area. … And a lot of my friends have had to move to Vacaville, Fairfield and Stockton,” Welch said.
Russell said the group is working with Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, which Beasley leads, to bring the program to more people. She added that the fund is nearly out of money, but they are raising more through donations.
Russell said that initially, the group thought of the project as temporary, but now the members are trying to make it permanent.
Hiem said the program has provided security not only for herself but for future generations of her family.
“I hope that others can benefit from the life-changing opportunity that this program gave to me,” she said.
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