Why Homeownership? Why Now?

0202_Habitat Blitz 6-13-2014Last March, the City of Portland designated $20 million toward affordable housing in north and northeast Portland to address the ongoing displacement of low income people and people of color from the area. This has sparked important conversation, including a look at Portland’s unjust housing history.
From redlining in the 1950s through 1990s, where banks would not make loans in parts of the city with high African American populations, to displacement due to highway, coliseum and hospital infrastructure, very few residents of color have been given the opportunity to own land in the neighborhoods they have been a part of for decades. This has led to a huge gap in the percentage of minorities that own homes compared to their white counterparts. Now the markets have taken over and close-in neighborhoods are in high demand. Home prices have increased 6.6% in the past year, one of the highest rates in the nation. This is good news for those who own property, but in our city, most minority residents do not and now are being displaced. We are at a critical juncture in our history, and the decisions we make today will determine the city our kids live in tomorrow.
The Portland Housing Bureau wanted the community to guide how the $20 million would be spent, and through a series of forums attended by residents and leaders, the community’s voices were heard. Last month, the City Council passed their proposal, including $5 million for affordable homeownership for first time low-income homebuyers, $4 million to provide critical repairs to homes, and $3 million for land acquisition for future affordable housing developments. These are important investments that I hope will be successful, leading to additional public and private investments in homeownership.
The time to invest in homeownership for low-income and minority families is now. While affordable rentals are vital, owning property is the single most powerful determinant of equity building, both socially and financially. It’s also the most effective strategy to avoid involuntary displacement due to gentrification. Diverse neighborhoods must be as much about who lives in the neighborhood as who owns property in the neighborhood.
Habitat is proof that families making as little as $21,000 a year can be successful homeowners. In Portland, we have seen it work for over 300 hardworking families in our program. We challenge the community to not just keep the minority homeownership gap from continuing to grow, but to start  closing it. ■
Steve Messinetti, President & CEO

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