Urban League begins $5M effort to boost Black homeownership in Madison

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Seeking to reverse a decades-long disparity in homeownership, the Urban League of Greater Madison has launched a $5 million initiative to help more Black Madisonians own their own homes.

Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League, said his organization is in the process of purchasing 15 to 17 homes that will be renovated and sold to Madison families with moderate to low incomes who have struggled to purchase a house. Families who purchase the homes will have no down payment.

"We have to make sure that we step in to make sure that home ownership is available to all in Madison's community here," Anthony said in announcing the plan at the Urban League's office on the South Side.

Anthony noted that that area of the city is becoming gentrified, pushing lower income families out as it becomes more developed. He said Madison needs to make sure there are still "houses around here that regular people can afford."

Over the next year, local nonprofit Operation Fresh Start, which helps young people ages 16-24 finish their education and gain work skills, including in construction, will assist with renovating the homes. Anthony said some of the houses will be ready in the next 30 to 60 days.

Anthony was joined by partners for the program Mayor Satya Rhode-Conway and Joaquin Altoro, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. WHEDA is providing nearly $3.5 million to support the initiative, and the city of Madison is contributing $200,000. Federal tax credits will also provide financial support.

"Bridging the home ownership gap among people of color is critically important today," Altoro said.

In a 2020 report from the National Association of Realtors, Wisconsin was the third worst state in the nation for its homeownership rate among African Americans. Only 23% of African Americans in Wisconsin were homeowners in 2018, compared to 71% of white Wisconsinites, the report states. Only two states had a lower rate for Black homeownership, and Maine was tied with Wisconsin for third worst, also with a rate of 23%.

In Dane County the rate is even lower with a homeownership rate of only 12% for Black households, according to the city of Madison.

A 2019 report from the Dane County Housing Initiative found that although income disparities contribute to disparities in homeownership and housing, when African American and Hispanic households were at the same income levels of white households they still experienced disproportionately high rates of housing stress.

Rhodes-Conway said households of color are also denied financing for mortgages more often than white households.

"That can't stand," she said. "That can't continue."

Rhodes-Conway said the new program builds on a previous effort by the Urban League and Madison that helped more than 50 families of color move from being renters to homeowners.

She committed to putting more funding toward such wealth-building efforts in her 2021 capital budget.

Ald. Sheri Carter, the first African American woman elected City Council president, said the homeownership program is sorely needed given the challenges people of color face when purchasing houses.

She said when her family moved to Madison in the early '50s looking for a house, she remembers her mother telling her, "We can't do that," when considering whether to buy certain homes.

"Through the Urban league and their team, WHEDA, the financial teams, the city, we have and will increase homeownership among black Madisonians," Carter said. "We have leveled the playing field. Never will we hear, 'Can't do this.'"

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