Wisconsin in Black & White

Helping build Black and Brown homeownership in Wisconsin

The Men of Color Initiative in Milwaukee and Own It: Building Black Wealth in Madison are working to educate and provide assistance to expand the ranks of people who can purchase their own homes.

By Murv Seymour | Here & Now

October 20, 2023 • Southeast Region

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School is always in at Milwaukee Area Technical College. On this day, members of the Men of Color Initiative, a mentoring group that helps Black and Brown men get through college, learn about the ins and outs of what it takes to become a homeowner.

“The city of Milwaukee has a $5,000 grant, but you have to live in the city of Milwaukee,” said an instructor with the group. “The minimal credit score requirement to get pre-approved for a home loan is 620.”

“Make sure that you’re paying your bills on time,” she continued. “You need to show that you’ve been working for six months to a year.”

The goal is to encourage and educate students like Jeramiah Crawford to become homeowners sooner rather than later.

“I think home ownership for the Black community is a dream that many don’t believe they can achieve,” Crawford said.

“When I bought that duplex, I was not making money at all,” the instructor shared.

“It’s more than just having a place to stay. It’s about building your future. You don’t want to have to continue to rent from someone and paying their mortgage when you can be paying your own mortgage,” Crawford added.

From a small office just down the street from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, owners of Alvarado Real Estate Group look to change the game in real estate.

“The Alvarado Real Estate Group is a small brokerage,” said Sara Alvarado, its co-founder and co-owner. “We are unapologetic about supporting Black and Brown homeownership.”

They do it by putting their money where their mouth is. Alvarado candidly admits growing up, she thought everyone had an equal path towards owning a home.

“At last the Bryants have all the space they need — big floor-to-ceiling closets for each member of the family,” boasts a mid-20th century TV ad.

“If your parents go to college, you just assume you’re going to go to college. And if your parents have a house, you assume you’re going to have a house,” Alvarado said. “So it wasn’t ’til I started working with people who was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, to own a house is my dream.'”

Historians and housing experts openly acknowledge for too long, federally run race-based policies like redlining and overall discrimination have systemically kept homeownership out of reach for most Black and Brown families.

“Dane County numbers: It’s 15% of families that are Black- or Brown-owned homes compared to 65% of white families,” Alvarado noted.

“In 1968 when they had the Fair Housing Act and then they were like, OK, now no discrimination, Black and Brown people go ahead and try and catch up to this accumulation of wealth and these neighborhoods that have been segregated on purpose, and these school districts that have been segregated on purpose,” she continued. “How is that possible without there without there being a plan of some sort?”

Sarah and her husband Carlos’ plan is called Own It: Building Black Wealth.

It is a down payment assistant program with an education aspect to it, explained Sara Alvarado.

In a partnership with One City Schools, where more than 85% of the students are Black and Brown, Own It funds a $15,000 down payment towards a home for any One City teacher or parent.

“We’re about learning and teaching about wealth building, because wealth building in itself is critical, and there are lots of different ways to do it,” Alvarado said.

Fueled by a growing network of real estate professionals, investors, homeowners and anyone who wants to change the narrative, contributions and proceeds from home sales drive Own It.

“We get a lot of contributions within the real estate industry and within the community. We’ve had sellers who, at the time of closing write a check. Sometimes it’s $1,000,” said Alvarado.

“We knew nothing as children really about homeownership,” said Sun Prairie resident Jodie Pope.

Since Own It launched in 2020, the Sun Prairie single mom is one of 10 families in the Madison who now proudly owns and no longer rents because of the program.

“Homeownership is significant,” she said. “It was an emotional process, because I almost didn’t get the keys.”

She continued: “This was my seventh offer.”

Pope shared the story and perspectives of her and her son Cameron just days away from the one-year anniversary of their move-in.

“It’s ours. So it gives you a sense of pride, a sense of ownership,” she said. “I’ve kind of leaned into my projects, and I’ve hung drywall … I painted,” Pope recalled.

“My son and I are social and I love to be able to host people over here,” she continued.

“No one can tell you to leave,” said Pope. “No one can tell you what you can do. You can paint the wall, You can put Steph Curry stickers all over the wall and on the ceiling fan.”

His mom said, gradually, Cameron is getting comfortable in their new community.

“My son can walk to school. … He never has had the neighborhood experience of having friends that lived two and three doors down,” said Pope.

“Being able to provide that stability, to go to the same school for your entire life, from here out, right? That type of stability to form those relationships with the friendships, with teachers, within the school district is key,” she said.

Pope said, most importantly, her son is learning about wealth and homeownership

“To teach him how to put a new handle on a toilet, which I’ve done. How to unclog a garbage disposal. … Our housing prices. Rental prices. It leaves us out,” she said. “We need to do this.”

The name Own It represents the painful past, while supporting the promising future.

“Owning the history of what has happened in the real estate industry,” said Pope. “It is literally me owning this place.”

Editor’s note: If you have watched this or any other Wisconsin in Black & White report, please share your feed back in a survey at pbswisconsin.org/wibw-survey. Thank you.

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