Programs to Assist First-Time Black Homebuyers in Colorado: Aiming to Narrow Historic Equity Gaps
As Nahjee Maybin stands on the cusp of achieving the quintessential American dream—graduating from college, securing a job, and finally gathering enough savings to buy a home for his family—he can’t help but reflect on the extensive challenges that the government and societal structures historically posed for Black Americans seeking homeownership.
The percentage of homeownership in the United States has experienced a slight growth over the past decade, increasing from 64.7% in 2011 to 65.5% in 2021, as per the data shared by the National Association of Realtors. However, this national increase casts a shadow over the persisting disparity between Black and white homeownership rates. In Colorado, for instance, while the homeownership rate among white residents is approximately 70%, the Black homeownership rate trails behind significantly, only reaching 42% as of a March report by the National Association of Realtors.
The origins of such inequality can be traced back to racist policies like redlining, practiced both in Colorado and across the nation, which have served as generational obstacles to home buying for Black families. Born in the 1930s, redlining was a discriminatory practice where federal programs providing government-insured mortgages deliberately neglected to assist neighborhoods likely to experience a decrease in property values—typically low-income areas predominantly inhabited by people of color.
Maybin, reflecting on these unjust policies, noted, “It’s astonishing to realize how many factors have contributed to this widening gap. The occurrences of such discriminatory practices weren’t that far in the past, and I believe a lot of people still remain uninformed about them.”
Maybin, a 31-year-old father of three, along with his wife, was finally able to become a homeowner in Aurora, thanks to the support of two Denver-area programs: the Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth and FirstBank’s Providing Access to Homeownership fund. Both initiatives are geared towards aiding Black first-time homebuyers in Colorado, offering significant down-payment assistance in a bid to rectify the equity gaps that obstruct Black homeownership.
The overall wealth disparity between white and Black households further underscores the inequity. White households in the United States, representing 68% of the nation’s households, hold 87% of the total wealth. In contrast, Black households account for 16% of the U.S. population but only hold a meager 3% of the country’s wealth, as per the Federal Reserve data.
Aisha T. Weeks, the managing director of the Denver-based Dearfield Fund, explains that this stark imbalance is largely due to historical housing discrimination, particularly redlining and its aftermath. The ramifications of federal housing policies barred Black and African American families from accumulating wealth and transferring it to successive generations. Weeks asserts that understanding how to navigate the system is crucial for the successful building of wealth over time, which is currently designed against their success.
To continue their effort in assisting Black first-time homeowners, FirstBank, based in Lakewood, recently received a $1 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. This grant will enable the continuation of its Providing Access to Homeownership (PATH) program, launched two years ago. Created in partnership with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and the Impact Development Fund, PATH helps cover down payment and closing costs for Black first-time homebuyers in the state without any expectation of repayment.
So far, FirstBank and the state Housing and Finance Authority have disbursed more than $2.6 million in grants, enabling 160 Black families to purchase their first homes. The recent $1 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation is projected to assist an additional 100 Black families in securing their new homes.
Greg Shields, a senior vice president at FirstBank, works directly with PATH clients as a lender. Being a Black man in the banking industry himself, Shields expressed that assisting PATH recipients has been the pinnacle of his career. He highlights the importance of these programs as a means to address the lingering impacts of systemic restrictions such as redlining and gentrification, as well as misconceptions and a lack of financial literacy often encountered by first-time homebuyers.
While the PATH program may not be extensively advertised, it spreads effectively via word-of-mouth among networks of Black real estate agents, lenders, previous recipients, and their allies, Shields said. This is evidence of a rising tide of change, as programs like these are essential steps towards achieving a more equitable housing landscape in Colorado and beyond.