Members of the BIPOC Homeownership project team are, from left, co-moderator Chao Mwatala, Coalition for Rochester Area Housing Executive Director JoMarie Morris, co-moderator Wafa Elkhalifa and project manager Tawonda Burks.
ROCHESTER — A recently produced list of recommendations for closing the gap between white and non-white homeowners doesn’t specifically call out government support, but local city and county efforts are likely to be part of the solution.
“I don’t think we can do this work in isolation,” Coalition for Rochester Area Housing Executive Director JoMarie Morris said of the collaboration’s BIPOC Homeownership report.
The coalition was formed and funded by the Rochester Area Foundation, Olmsted County, the city of Rochester and Mayo Clinic and operates with support from the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency.
Using the acronym for Black, Indigenous and people of color, the recently released report is fueled by insights shared by local BIPOC homeowners and renters, as well as representatives of lending institutions and Realtors.
While recommendations centered around potential steps for lenders, Realtors, builders, community support agencies and individual BIPOC communities, local government representatives said it doesn’t leave them off the hook.
“There is a role for us, but it might not be the primary role,” Olmsted County Housing Director Dave Dunn said. “It might be a supporting role.”
He said one thing in the report that surprised him was how much more education is needed. While classes exist for people wanting to buy a home, he said the report highlights the fact that some residents don’t understand the potential financial benefits of owning a home.
The coalition report points out white Olmsted County residents are more than three times more likely to own a home than their BIPOC counterparts. It also highlights that BIPOC residents have experienced a history of barriers due to racist practices that are currently illegal. But the echo of those practices have left generations behind when compared to their white counterparts.
The complexity of the homebuying process and current market prices, add to the challenge, and the report points to the need for a combined effort.
“Based on the complexity and pervasive institutional and structural systems that contributed to the immense disparity in homeownership for our BIPOC communities, it became apparent that the solutions to advancing BIPOC homeownership was multifaceted, requiring intentional efforts by all stakeholders,” the report states.
Taryn Edens, Rochester’s manager of housing and neighborhood services, said the city and county could play a role in coordinating that effort.
“There wasn’t one clear item we could lead at this time,” she said, but pointed to the potential for helping hold a recommended annual homeownership conference or workshop to address the disparity.
The annual event would continue discussions on the topic and find ways to connect potential partners in the effort.
Rochester City Council member Shaun Palmer, who represents the council on the coalition, said he does see a potential local-government path for helping address the issue.
He plans to push for the city to take a more active role in helping create new entry-level homes, which in turn would provide greater access to BIPOC residents priced out of the current market.
“There are things the city can do to make it affordable,” he said, pointing to the goal of creating new homes with prices of $250,000 or less. “It’s not impossible.”
He pointed to options ranging from tax abatements and waiving building fees to the potential for the city to purchase land and work with a developer to build new homes.
“The objection to that is you are competing in the open market against people,” he said of the city initiating the development process, but he pointed out developers aren’t currently producing lowerpriced homes.
County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who represents the county board on the coalition, agreed entry-level homes aren’t being built by local developers, but she said that’s often due to the risk.
“The starter homes are things that they don’t think will sell quickly,” she said of local builders who don’t want to tie up assets in empty homes waiting to be sold.
“That’s a very key piece of the puzzle: How do we reduce the risk for builders and developers?” she said, pointing to the potential for helping reduce costs for builders, as well as potential homebuyers.
The issue is likely to be on the plate for city and county officials in the upcoming weeks and months.
The City Council has a Jan. 23 study session planned to address potential work to address the need for more housing, and Edens said some of the recommendations in the recent homeownership report will likely be part of the discussion.
Additionally, Dunn said he’s planning to work with four new county commissioners to bring them up to speed on current housing programs and potential efforts to address housing needs. The county commissioners will meet Tuesday as the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where they are slated to receive an overview of the HRA, and a Jan. 31 introduction to the housing department is planned.
Kiscaden said the efforts that will be discussed will need to be considered as part of the larger approach recommended by the coalition report.
“There is a role in there for the city and county government, but we are part of a broader landscape,” she said.
Contact local government reporter Randy Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.