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Stay Home with Habitat

Reckoning with Race and Housing

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As an organization that condemns structural racism in our housing system, Asheville Habitat will not transfer this deed to another owner with this abhorrent language. We took the time to learn from the Register of Deeds and work with Pisgah Legal Services to draft new deed language that nullifies the racist restrictions. This is a small step in the right direction and we hope it inspires other property owners to do the same.

Homes, Communities, Hope & YOU

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For low-income families, stay at home orders exacerbate existing struggles such as exposure to toxins like mold and mildew, overcrowded conditions, and unsafe neighborhoods. While this pandemic affects everyone, the effects on our low-income neighbors is most acute.

AmeriCorps Reflection: Importance of Listening

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A reflection by AmeriCorps VISTA member Krysta Osweiler, who works in Homeowner Services.

“The more I’ve had the opportunity to speak with different members of the community (over 200 individuals in just one quarter!), the more I’ve seen the ways that the entire issue of affordable housing affects far more people than I ever thought it would. I came into my VISTA role knowing that there was a huge need, but as I’ve spent time talking with different community members, and really listening to their stories, I’ve seen many of the ways that housing can, and often does, divide people. Almost into the “haves” and “have not’s”.  For some, renting is a way of life. For others, it’s all they can afford. For even more, they haven’t once considered that there may be another option.

Each of my grandparents owned their homes, and my parents have owned a home since I was baby. I have never once considered that homeownership might be out of reach for me. But that’s not how it is for everyone, and depending on where you live, monthly mortgage payments could cost far more than rent would. Up until now, I’ve really seen the question of homeownership as being purely a matter of finances, without fully appreciating that there can often be a whole lot more at play in the decision than just money.

One of my most meaningful experiences was completely unexpected. I reached out to our local community college, wondering how I could best connect with their ESL students. Imagine my surprise when the response was an invitation to speak with their English conversation class! There were 9 class members on the day of my visit, each with varying levels of English proficiency. The facilitator had prepared a list of questions to discuss, specifically focused on housing, and it was pretty eye-opening to hear their responses. Some were interested in a house, but only after having children, once they’d really “need” the extra space. Others lived with extended family, and desperately wanted to be in a place of their own; but their cultures were the kind where multiple generations lived together, and not having other family members in the home would never be an option for them. One came from a city where literally no one could afford to buy a home of their own, so until this conversation, it had never once crossed his mind that people might do that.

Housing and “home” is something we all see very differently, depending on where we came from and what our point of reference is. I knew that if you always rented, and your parents always rented, and your grandparents always rented, that you probably wouldn’t recognize homeownership as an option for you. But I didn’t fully appreciate the ways that your culture could play into that, or how it can even go so far as to dictate your housing choices for you. Many of these international students had always lived with extended family, and really wanted to enjoy their apartments here, and the space to themselves. One even said that as long as they were in a small apartment, no one else would come live with them, but if they had a house, other family members would definitely be living there, too. That completely took away any motivation for them to purchase a house down the road. When my husband and I first bought a house, that wasn’t even part of what we considered. We wanted to have space for our family members to be able to visit. But for these students, having that space would mean something completely different. It wouldn’t have been space for visitors, it would have been space for long-term guests that wouldn’t necessarily leave.

These conversations have been an important part of sharing information about Habitat with our community. They’ve also been important as a way to educate people on both sides of the table. Not only did these students need to hear that homeownership is a possibility, I needed to hear what shaped their thoughts on the process. We each have a unique perspective, and every single one of those perspectives is valid. Until we really listen to the people on the “other” side of the table, we won’t be able to recognize how different our thoughts might be. Much of my time has been spent educating the community at-large about Habitat and the services we provide. In doing so, I’ve learned from community members themselves, and for that, I am grateful.”

New Partnership to Meet Senior Housing Needs

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Though older adults (age 55+) comprise 20% of Buncombe County’s population, they have limited access to affordable housing options designed to meet their needs. Coordinator for Buncombe County Aging Plan Alison H. Climo shared, “Neither the current housing stock nor the booming development of new housing matches the expressed desire among older and aging residents to age in place. Buncombe County needs housing options that are affordable but also accessible to enable people of all ages, and all people as they age, to remain in the home of their choice.”

To that end, in the first phase of construction at its upcoming New Heights neighborhood (off of Old Haywood Road), Habitat will build 8 single-level townhomes specifically for aging adults, thanks to generous support from local retirement community, Deerfield. Funding from Deerfield and its newly formed Charitable Foundation includes a Full House Sponsorship ($55,000) on each of the 8 units, as well as $50,000 to research and develop senior-oriented house designs, financing options and HOA management.

“The ability to age with safety and dignity and to live in an age-friendly community shouldn’t be an option reserved for the wealthy. Everyone deserves to live in a stable, affordable home – in all stages of life. We are incredible grateful for Deerfield’s partnership in this important work of ensuring more of our aging neighbors have a safe, affordable home,” said Andy Barnett, Asheville Habitat’s Executive Director.

Specifically designed for and sold to qualified older adults, Habitat’s senior housing will include universal design elements such as:

  • An at-grade or ramped entrance to the main floor or the capability to easily install a ramp
  • Entry doorways and passageways at least 36″ wide
  • A bathroom that will accommodate a wheelchair in a 365-degree circle
  • One-level living that includes a full bath, kitchen, laundry, living space and 1+ bedroom
  • Additional occupant-specific accommodations

 

Site of New Heights as of Dec. 2019.

Like all Habitat homeowners, senior homebuyers will repay an affordable mortgage. To help identify potential homebuyers, Asheville Habitat will leverage existing relationships with Council of Aging, Land of Sky Regional Council and other agencies.

“We are so glad to be able to support affordable housing for seniors in Buncombe County. Deerfield residents have communicated their passion and support for Habitat in such practical ways over the years – consistent volunteerism and generous donations! We listened and are affirming their commitment to Asheville Habitat by investing nearly half a million dollars in the organization’s good work,” remarked Michelle Wooley, Director of Philanthropy at Deerfield.

To learn more about Habitat homeownership (senior housing or traditional single-family and townhome models) here or call 828.210.9362. Information sessions are held multiple times each month and the schedule of upcoming dates can be found on the website.

Where Habitat Fits in the Movement for Racial Equity

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By Andy Barnett, Executive Director

Earlier this week, we observed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. The holiday provides an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and to recommit to a vision of equity for our neighbors who face barriers due to intentionally discriminatory policies and structures of power. Dr. King saw a great deal of progress toward racial equity in his lifetime and we have seen more in the years since his death. But much remains to be done to realize the dream of a nation where everyone has the chance to live up to their potential regardless of where they start from and the obstacles in their path. Continuing this work is our challenge today.

Homeownership Disparity; Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

One of the places where we haven’t seen progress toward racial equity, where, in fact we see a widening gap between whites and people of color is in household wealth. In 1963, the disparity in median family wealth was about $40,000; white households now have a median net worth $123,000 higher than African American families according to a report by the Urban Institute. This means that white families are much more able to weather financial hardships, take advantage of education and career opportunities, and participate in a virtuous cycle where the wealth attainment of one generation becomes the platform for the next. Families of color are much less likely to see these benefits.

A number of factors contribute to the widening gap in wealth including income, employment, family wealth, and education attainment. But, the largest single factor is homeownership—accounting for more than 25% of the disparity according to a Brandeis study.  White households are more likely to own homes. In Buncombe County, 72% of white households own their home while fewer than half of households of color are homeowners. This level of disparity in homeownership is consistent with national homeownership gap. Not only are households of color less likely to own homes, they also build equity more slowly (and lose it more quickly) than white households.

Home Ownership Loan Corporation “redlining” map of Asheville

This disparity is the result of intentional real estate and mortgage lending practices.  Beginning in the 1930’s, federal underwriting policy established lending risk based on geography.  Communities of color were identified as having a greater risk of default. As a result, these “redlined” areas were largely excluded from the post-war housing boom in housing development finance. Across the country new developments legally excluded Black and Latino buyers through restrictive covenants, and at the same time, neighborhoods of color declined due to lack of capital investment.

This pattern of lending created, in effect, two housing markets. One that rapidly appreciated in value and was restricted to whites, and another for people of color where values and conditions stagnated or declined. Overtime the deteriorating conditions in these disinvested neighborhoods “proved” that race-based lending practices were justified and these neighbors were blamed for the poor conditions rather than recognized as victims of discriminatory practices. Even after housing discrimination based on race was outlawed, “blight” and a “blame the victim” culture made it easy to justify redevelopment and displacement. Unfortunately, two generations of households have missed out on wealth building through a period of historic home value appreciation.

This is where Habitat’s work enters the story. We are a builder and a bank. Our programs simultaneously address geographic disinvestment and create a path to successful homeownership. Habitat develops housing in neighborhoods that other developers might reject, but where opportunities exist for a good quality of life for homeowners. Depending on the market, Habitat’s investment can boost a stagnating market or build long term economic integration in a “hot” market. By financing and assisting repairs for existing homeowners, Habitat preserves the housing stock and adds value to existing neighborhoods. Habitat lends to first time buyers and finances repairs for existing owners that other lenders have determined are too “risky”. Through careful underwriting, extensive education, a focus on partnership with the borrower, and a commitment to affordable mortgage terms, Habitat successfully extends homeownerships to households with incomes well below what it would take to qualify for a conventional mortgage. Since 2010, 45% of those new homeowners were households of color.

Habitat creates a way for households facing economic barriers to achieve homeownership and begin to close the wealth gap, but we can’t do it alone. To achieve equity in rates of homeownership nearly 3,000 additional households of color in Buncombe County will need the opportunity to become homeowners. To achieve this scale, we will need many more lenders to adopt policies that help households of color overcome historical barriers to mortgage loans. We need to grow housing and financial counseling opportunities to help aspiring homebuyers become “mortgage ready”. We need more affordable rental options and tenant advocacy so that renters have the stability needed to save and prepare for future ownership. Finally, we need home repair and foreclosure prevention assistance to help existing homeowners to remain at home. In short, it will take everyone committing to give our time, our financial support, and our voices to advance the dream of equality of opportunity for all our neighbors regardless of race.

P.S. – On MLK Day, a group of Habitat staff members and volunteers watched this 30 minute film together to gain a better understanding of the complex roots of today’s racial inequity in housing. I encourage you to make the time to watch it.

 

 

 

 

 

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