Rochester community members tackle homeownership gap

Jan. 7—ROCHESTER — The Coalition for Rochester Area Housing

released a report

Friday afternoon, outlining potential steps to narrow the racial homeownership gap.

The 20-page report is in response to the 2020 Olmsted County Comprehensive Housing Study, which reported 77% of local white households own their homes, while only 22% of Black households do the same.

"One of the things that came out of the project was looking at structural racial barriers in the homeownership process," said Chao Mwatala, the city of Rochester's diversity, equity and inclusion director. "For African Americans who tend to be those who are here and have a legacy of slavery, I think that the structural barriers impact them more in the creation of generational wealth."

Mwatala joined Coalition Executive Director JoMarie Morris on the four-person project team that worked with a group of 10 community members to identify barriers and recommend potential steps to reduce the gap.

"This is going beyond admiring the data to actually putting action items to it," Mwatala said.

The 10 community members, known as co-designers, represent diverse backgrounds and experiences related to home purchases, from homeowners who received assistance through various programs to a lender and Realtor, who help others purchase homes.

Co-designer Joseph Eslait, who is a Realtor with Casa Real Estate in Rochester, said the mix of input into the report and recommendations was crucial.

"To me, it was very insightful," he said. "I knew we needed affordable housing and things like that, but on thing that stood out is there are a lot of people out there who qualify and would be able to buy a house but they just haven't found someone to give them hope and a little push, especially with people of color."

Wafa Elkhalifa, the equity and economic development coordinator for the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency, who served as the group's co-moderator with Mwatala, said the varied perspectives helped address the needs, but also potential responses by local government, as well as lenders, Realtors, developers and others engaged in the process.

"Co-design is not just identifying the problem," she said "It's also being part of the solution and identifying paths."

Recommendations included in the report include:

* Increasing education opportunities, from providing financial literacy classes in school to expanding learning opportunities throughout the home ownership process.

* Creating diversity, equity and inclusion assessments and implementation for lenders, real estate agents and other organizations that work with potential homeowners.

* Diversifying the lender and real estate workforce.

* Developing more relationships with diverse communities.

* Improving organizational communication through language translation and technology.

* Creating a network of home ownership mentors.

The report and recommendations were presented to coalition members Thursday, and next steps are being considered.

"We have some initial thoughts but not specific ideas we can talk about at this time," Morris said Friday of the coalition discussions, which included representatives from the city of Rochester, Olmsted County, Mayo Clinic, Rochester Area Foundation and the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency.

Tawonda Burks, owner of ELOCINA LLC and co-design project manager, said the work won't sit solely in the hands of city and county officials.

"I believe all the co-designers are going to actively take a role and be intentional in taking things forward," she said of efforts to inform community members and work within their industries and peer groups.

Elkhalifa agreed, "They are eager to be part of the solutions," she said.