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Habitat Greenville launches communitywide effort to increase Black homeownership

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Habitat for Humanity of Greenville has formed a community-led initiative to create new pathways to homeownership and family growth for Black people across the county.

Using Unity Park, a City park in West Greenville that was once the site of two segregated parks, and is now a diverse and equitable gathering space, as a backdrop, Habitat officials and community leaders unveiled a new Advancing Black Homeownership Project. The project is made possible by a grant from Habitat for Humanity International.

“This is about more than Habitat for Humanity. This is about more than the City. More than the County,” said Monroe Free, President and CEO of Habitat Greenville. “This is about changing historic patterns and creating economic justice.”

As part of the program, a steering committee including Rev. Stacey Mills, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church and Executive Director of Greenville Race Equity and Economic Mobility Commission, Rev. Sean Dogan, pastor of Long Branch Baptist Church, Greenville Mayor Knox White, Tamela Spann, vice president of investments for Hollingsworth Funds and Samantha Wallace, Upstate Market Executive for Bank of America, will help guide and support the project, which will be led by Joseph Fields, Habitat’s new vice president overseeing the project.

“This project aims to create a stronger and more inclusive Greenville,” Mills said. “We have come a long way in the past few years in ending many systematic racism problems, but we have a long way to go. This is a major step forward.”

Fields said part of the reason Greenville County was chosen for the Habitat International grant is because Black homeownership here lags the national average. Black families here are 30 percentage points behind white families when it comes to owning a home. Habitat International invested in Greenville, recognizing the community’s desire to close the gap.

Habitat Greenville is one of 20 affiliates nationwide selected for the program. Highlights of this new plan include:

  • Development of a racial-equity lending strategy and property acquisition fund through Habitat Mortgage Solutions, the agency’s community development financial institution.

  • Financial coaching and counseling for applicants along their homeownership journey, whether they become Habitat homeowners or not.

  • Research and measurement efforts to identify best practices in areas such as housing innovation, preserving home affordability, and exploring how new and existing programs lead to better outcomes for individuals and families.

  • Advocacy for policy proposals and legislation that enable millions of people access to affordable homes through Cost of Home, Habitat’s U.S. advocacy campaign.

“We are not reallocating any resources or deprioritizing any non-Black homeowners. In our commitment to focusing on Black homeownership, we develop new resources and capacity to ensure Black households have the same access to homeownership that others, particularly white Americans, have had,” Fields said.

Preserving and creating affordable housing is a Greenville City Council priority. Changing dynamics and population growth have rapidly increased rental rates and listing prices for homes. In the past five years, the City has invested more than $10 million and donated more than a dozen acres of land in support of affordable housing with $15 more planned in the next five years. City Council offered financial support last month to the Greenville Housing Fund by unanimous resolution, allowing them to the use the City’s annual contribution toward a $30 million loan.

“We will meet our goals for affordable housing because of public-private partnerships,” said White. “Few cities can do this, but Greenville can. We have the plan and the investments – the largest in South Carolina – to make it possible. This effort led by Habitat to focus specifically on Black homeownership is vital to equity and livability for all Greenville residents.”

Across the country, Black families are less likely to own their own homes than white families. During Habitat’s 45-year history, their work has helped close that homeownership gap as Black homeowners made up 43% of the families who partnered to build with Habitat in Fiscal Year 2021. However, in Greenville County, as throughout the country, there is a significant racial inequity in home ownership overall, with approximately 83% of owner-occupied housing units having white, non-Hispanic householders, compared to 11% black householders and 4% Hispanic householders.

Aspiring Black homeowners are most negatively affected by a system of discriminatory policies and practices that limit access to homeownership, said Jackie Jones, a Habitat Greenville board member, who lives in the community.

“The Black homeownership rate is currently the lowest of any other racial or ethnic group. By focusing on Black homeowners, we are recognizing the unique and specific policies and practices that have disadvantaged this community,” she said.

About Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County:

Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County opened its doors in 1985 to bring families, community partners, and volunteers together to construct affordable, energy-efficient homes that help families build strength, stability, and self-reliance. As of May 2023, Habitat Greenville has completed the construction of 405 homes. Habitat Greenville received the 2017 Builder of the Year award from EarthCraft, and in recognition of financial health, accountability, and transparency, maintain a 4-Star Charity status by Charity Navigator. Habitat Greenville ReStores are located at 3033 Wade Hampton Boulevard in Taylors and 1818 Woodruff Road in Greenville. Call 864-312-5016 for free donation pickups.

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