With the national rate of Black homeownership no better than it was in the 1960s, a new local effort will look for ways to boost the number of Black homeowners in the Seattle area. 

JPMorgan Chase said Tuesday it will direct $1.95 million toward a Black homeownership initiative organized by the Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons. Exact uses of the money are still being determined, but the funds mark the beginning of a new effort to address a longstanding problem. The initiative will join several other efforts to increase Black homeownership in the region.

In Washington, 34% of Black people own a home, compared to 68% of white people. In Seattle, the gap is about 26% to 51%, respectively. Driven by years of discriminatory practices, the gap undermines Black Americans’ ability to build wealth and benefit from rising home prices.

The new initiative aims to add 1,500 Black homeowners in South Seattle, South King County and Northern Pierce County in the next five years. Housing prices have shot up in some of those areas since the start of the pandemic. In Southeast King County (covering Auburn, Kent, Renton and Skyway), the median home sold for $650,000 last year, up 23% from the year before.

“That’s a very audacious goal. I don’t even know if it’s possible,” said Michael Brown, civic architect at Civic Commons. “But in order to get there, we have to disrupt the system the way it currently is.”

Organizers say more discussion is needed to determine how the funds will be spent, but possible uses include funding and loans for affordable and “mission-based” housing developers, outreach to Black renters about homeownership opportunities and a “debt-remediation loan fund” to help homebuyers roll certain types of debt, such as medical debt, into their mortgages. 

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Civic Commons’ goal is to attract more philanthropy and government funding, Brown said. 

“If all we’re talking about is $2 million three years from now, we have failed,” Brown said. “Three years from now, we should be talking about, I don’t know, $20 million or $30 million, and that ability to influence a system that’s producing something different.”

The funding is part of a $30 billion pledge JPMorgan made after the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — a small portion of the bank’s $3.2 trillion in assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. The bank said in October it had spent $13 billion so far on homebuyer grants, affordable rental housing, helping homeowners refinance and other efforts.  

Along with Chicago, Los Angeles and several other cities, JPMorgan chose Seattle “given the gap and the magnitude of the gap, and given the magnitude of the issues here,” said Phyllis Campbell, the bank’s chairman for the Pacific Northwest.

The JPMorgan-funded initiative is not the first effort to narrow the homeownership gap in Washington.

Another group of local housing and real estate industry experts has created a seven-point plan to boost Black homeownership. They call for more marketing and outreach to encourage Black homebuyers, counseling before and after purchase, more down payment assistance, more affordable housing and other proposals. 

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Alongside the need for financial assistance and housing supply, outreach matters because some potential homebuyers assume ownership is out of reach, said Nicole Bascomb, a Seattle real estate broker who worked on the plan and is president of the Western Washington chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an organization founded in 1947 when Black brokers could not join the National Association of Realtors

“We have to continue to share this information and put it on repeat,” Bascomb said. 

The Washington Department of Commerce is also working on a report assessing current homeownership programs and barriers to Black, Indigenous and people of color trying to access credit and loans to buy homes. The report is due in August.

“If we can move the needle for Black homeownership, there are tangential benefits to the wider community,” said Darryl Smith, who sits on the state work group creating the report and is executive director of Homesight. With funds from JPMorgan, Windermere Foundation, and others, the organization offers a loan to help Black buyers increase their purchasing power.

Addressing the homeownership gap will require bigger change than any one proposal can address.

Racial disparities span every facet of housing and homeownership. Black renters are more likely to spend more than half of their income on rent and more likely to have student loan debt, making it harder to save for a down payment. According to the National Association of Realtors, Black homebuyers are more likely to tap into their 401k or pension funds to buy a house, which can eat into their long-term financial health. When the time comes to apply for a mortgage, Black applicants are more likely to be rejected for loans. And when Black homeowners seek an appraisal to refinance or resell their home, they can face discrimination

“We know there are issues with zoning, with credit scores. These are the big issues, and some are somewhat controversial,” Smith said. “If we truly want to move the needle on this issue, these are some of those uncomfortable conversations we’ve got to engage in.”

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