Most of us know that African Americans face the highest disparities when it comes to homeownership, but don’t let the dismal stats fool you. Through financial discipline, education and planning, homeownership can, indeed, be yours. That was the central takeaway from Sister Spokesman’s most recent gathering on April 6.
The hour-long discussion, held at Lifesource in Minneapolis, remained upbeat even when the conversation touched on some of the biggest challenges to buying a home, namely poor credit.
“You have to have discipline,” advised panelist Trent Bowman, vice president of community development at KleinBank, a division of Old National Bank. “Build your credit score one credit card at a time,” he said.
“You didn’t ruin your credit overnight and you’re not going to be able to fix it overnight. Talk to your financial coach [at] PRG, PPL [Project for Pride in Living] or the Minneapolis Urban League, and then strategically start rebuilding your credit scores.”
He further illustrated his point by sharing a personal story. “I had great credit [but] lost my job and lost everything and had to rebuild.
“I rebuilt my credit by buying furniture,” he explained. “I took one room at a time. I started with my bedroom… then I paid that off. Then I got my living room set and I paid for that… Next thing I know, my credit score started to grow.”
Bowman encouraged attendees not to settle for the bare minimum. “Why are we a culture of people who are getting in with a 580 [credit score] and getting ourselves pigeon-holed into one product [bank loan offer]?” he asked. “Why can’t we shoot for the 680s, 700s, 740s so we can qualify for all the products? Shoot for a high score, so you can qualify for all the products.”
You’re paying off someone’s home or leaving an inheritance for your landlord’s beneficiaries — why not leave that for your own?
Panelists Angela Lindquist of Wells Fargo, one of the event sponsors, agreed with Bowman and noted that getting a credit score up into the 680-740 range, a sweet spot for better loan rates, doesn’t take as long as one might think.
“It’s going to be different for everyone,” she explained. “Some people can get there in a year, if you’re looking at a 500 credit score. Others can get there in six to nine months. You have to be consistent and aggressive.”
The panelists, rounded out by Shawna Frazier, of Remax Results, and Julie Gugin, of the Minnesota Homeownership Center, all agreed that first-time homebuyers should seek out financial counseling to best assess their financial situation, set goals, and utilize the various resources in the community.
Many of these resources, like Minnesota Housing, PRG, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and event sponsor Homeownership Opportunity Alliance, were in attendance and available for attendees to follow-up with questions after the discussion.
Sherrie Martin, 48, of Burnsville said that after the discussion, she felt emboldened to venture out and begin the homeownership process. “I just moved back here from Mississippi about a year ago,” said Martin, a first-time Sister Spokesman attendee. “I have never owned a home — always rented all my life. Growing up, I’ve never had it in my head. I didn’t know a homeowner. It was just never in my ear or thought about, really.
“But now that I’m older, I’m asking myself where is my money going? I have to own something. Also, I have grandchildren and I’d like to leave something for them if anything ever happens to me, leave some generational wealth.
“So, a lot of the questions I had written down, I got answered today. Now I feel like, you know what, I think I can do this!”
Tammy Pollard, regional vice president of Primerica, stressed that it is the lack of knowledge, not wealth that prevents many African Americans from buying a home.
“We’re not broke [as a people], we’re just overpaying for things, that’s the problem,” Pollard told the MSR. “We need to look around our financial house and look where that money is going… People are just not educated. When people are educated, they can make informed choices.
“And if people can pay rent, then you can afford a home,” she continued. “Owning a home brings you equity. You’re paying off someone’s home or leaving an inheritance for your landlord’s beneficiaries — why not leave that for your own? Why not leave a legacy?”
Sister Spokesman’s next event, “Wear Your Crown,” a discussion of hair care, will take place on May 4 from 12-4 pm at Thor Companies in Minneapolis. Visit @SisterSpokesman on Facebook for more info.
Scroll down to find more photos and a few homeownership resources
Paige Elliott is the digital editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.