Last summer, DonnaLee Norrington had a dream about owning a home. Not the figurative kind, but a literal dream, as she slept in the rental studio apartment in South Los Angeles that she was sharing with a friend.
At around 2 a.m., Norrington remembers, "God said to me, 'Why don't you get a mortgage that doesn't move?' And in my head I knew that meant a fixed mortgage."
The very next morning — she made an appointment with Mark Alston, a local mortgage broker well known in South LA Black community, to inquire about purchasing her very own home for the first time.
She was 59 at the time.
Alston has built his lending practice on the hope of expanding access to homeownership for Black Americans. He says they have been systematically discriminated against by the real estate industry and government policy. Unlike most loan officers, Alston works with his clients for months — even years — to disentangle a convoluted loan application process, pay off bills and boost credit scores so they can ultimately qualify for a home loan.
Today, Norrington and her younger sister MaryJosephine Norrington own a three-bedroom house in Compton, where three generations of her family currently live.
Owning a home is an undeniable part of the American dream — and of American citizenship. It is also the key to building intergenerational wealth. But Norrington's homeownership success story is an increasingly rare one for Black Americans.
Over the last 15 years, Black homeownership has declined more dramatically than for any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. In 2019, the Black homeownership rate was about as low as in the 1960s, when private race-based discrimination was legal.
The story of housing discrimination is rooted in a long history of racist government policies perpetuated by the real estate industry and private attitudes that began with slavery. The federal government began to push and expand homeownership in the New Deal era through innovations like the 30-year mortgage.
But one way Black people and other minority groups were left out systematically was through a process known as "redlining" which labeled certain areas as "risky" for a home loan. African Americans and immigrants were relegated to areas, marked in red on government-sponsored maps, where poverty was most concentrated and housing was deteriorating.
Black Americans And The Racist Architecture Of Homeownership, Ailsa Chang, Christopher Intagliata, Jonaki Mehta, NPR, May 8, 2021, available here