BlackNorth Initiative Gives New Hope for Homeownership to Black Families

Homeownership is widely acknowledged as the largest single investment most Canadian families will make and can also serve as the foundation for building generational wealth. However, not all families have traditionally had the same opportunities to purchase the home of their dreams.

A promising new initiative by the BlackNorth Initiative (BNI) to help close the homeownership gap between Black Canadians and the rest of the population is inspiring new hope for middle-income Black families across the country.

CEO Pledge

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) is proud to highlight our ongoing partnership with BNI as a signatory of their CEO Pledge, which commits us to improving the representation of Black people in our staff and leadership. The Pledge is a public commitment to address anti-Black racism through taking action on seven goals that impact recruitment practices, the composition of executive teams and boards of directors, and where corporate donations and sponsorships are directed, among other areas of focus.

Leveraging the success of the CEO Pledge, BNI utilized a business-first mindset to build programming in support of equity-deserving groups generally and more specifically for Black Canadians. To create new opportunities for Black families across the country, BNI designed a program that aims to increase homeownership within the Black community. Funded by the Government of Canada and delivered in partnership with the Dream Legacy Foundation (DLF) and the GTA chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the rollout of BNI’s Homeownership Bridge Program is in its in first year of operations.

Homeownership Bridge Program

When DLF founder Isaac Olowolafe Jr. reflects on “the countless meetings about this initiative and whether we could get it approved, whether we could get the buy-in from government, from builders, from the community, it’s very rewarding to see” the early progress being made, he said. 

In the partnership, the DLF takes care of the application process, community outreach, and engagement with the families while Habitat for Humanity GTA helps to acquire the homes that will be purchased as part of the program. BNI administers the program and provides overall coordination.

The program addresses a generational problem in urgent need of a solution.

In 2018, data from Statistics Canada confirmed what was already widely known anecdotally in the Black communities of Canada – homeownership has been an unattainable dream for a large segment of their population. Just 48% of the Black population that year lived in a home that was owned by a member of the household, while the national average was 73%.

As one way to make homeownership a reality for more Black households, BNI sought out program partners interested in creating a better future for Black families who wanted to own a home.

“I think for some other communities and cultures and backgrounds, owning a home [is] just par for the course, but it really isn’t part of our upbringings, it’s never been detailed to us as an option,” explains BNI Executive Director Dahabo Ahmed-Omer.

“I think that’s sort of the reality right now and things are changing obviously – [t]he work that CREA’s doing, the work that we’re doing – but it still continues to be something that’s hard for most Black communities to digest because they haven’t seen that as being an option for them.”

At a news conference in February 2022, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion, committed $10 million of federal funding for the Homeownership Bridge Program’s first phase – helping 200 families to purchase their first home in the GTA. BNI’s plan is to expand the program to other communities across the country upon the successful completion of its first phase, leveraging DLF’s existing and growing network of community relationships across the country to help more families reach their goal of becoming homeowners.

Family unpacking moving boxes.

Systemic barriers

“There’s no part of our society where Black Canadians don’t face systemic barriers, including when it comes to having a safe and affordable place to call home,” said Minister Hussen at the time. “Consistently, we see Black Canadians with higher housing needs and with lower homeownership numbers, far significantly lower than the average population, and we recognize that there is a systemic issue here that needs to be addressed.”

Up until now, Ahmed-Omer saw the idea of homeownership as “always been challenging for Black communities. People don’t see themselves in that world and I think that’s what we’re hoping to change because there are opportunities that can be created. It’s not something that people allow themselves to even dream about because it’s never been a possibility from a generational perspective.”According to BNI, housing in the city of Toronto is highly racialized – 75% of residents who identify as white have above average incomes and are homeowners, while 69% of residents who identify as racialized have lower incomes and rent their homes. At the same time, the cost of purchasing a family-sized home has risen from 4x to 4.5x the average income in 1990 to 15x to 16x today. “Homeownership has enabled generations of Canadians to build equity to start businesses, support children’s post-secondary education, provide for retirement and transfer wealth to children, however, the Black community has been left out.”

BNI’s program provides an opportunity for homeownership to those who qualify, but there are many families who are not currently eligible under its rules. Ahmed-Omer remains optimistic about those households becoming eligible to re-apply in the future and sees the need for greater financial literacy in the Black community – a key factor in the success of the program in the years to come.

“That’s a huge part of the challenge within the community is that they don’t know where the shortfall is … we’re not just identifying [shortfalls] for them, we’re providing training and learning within the program as well. It’s like a one-stop shop: if you can apply here, you can go through the process here, you can get a home here, but if you don’t qualify, here’s what you can do to get qualified. And that was just as important as getting people qualified.”

In keeping with this client-focused approach, it was critical to BNI to have a Black-owned business with a strong track record in the housing sector to conduct the outreach and engagement with participating families. “Making sure that we had the voice of the Black community as the engagement arm was very key for us because those are the people that will understand your situation the most – it’s relatable. It was important for us to bring in a partner that was going to be able to do that,” said Ahmed-Omer.

From the perspective of the DLF, the Black community has not only been left behind in homeownership, but also in the broader housing sector. They want to provide opportunities for Black workers and small businesses in the skilled trades and the multibillion-dollar construction industry, thereby creating additional economic stimulus within the Black community, as part of their overall strategy.

For Olowolafe, success for the Homeownership Bridge Program will happen at three levels. “Initial success is first getting 200 homes filled. The second success is leveraging that as a foundation to do thousands of homes across Canada. The third success is becoming part of the supply chain that’s providing that housing.”

BNI sees additional measures of success that focus on the way the families who purchase the homes can then live their lives. Finding greater financial stability, being able to support children who want to pursue postsecondary studies, taking family vacations, and seeing them thrive while growing their financial equity are keys to this vision.

“For someone to be able to say ‘this is my home, I built my family here, my kids have grown up here, and now I can pass my house on,’” says Ahmed-Omer, “those are some of the things that I think ultimately will make this program super, super successful.”

In his role as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Advisor, Greg Frankson helps CREA advance its commitment to fostering a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist environment for all its employees, volunteers, and members. Prior to his time at CREA, Greg was an anti-discrimination activist on the national and international level, and has worked as an educator, writer, and public speaker for more than 20 years. When not engaged in DEIA efforts, Greg likes to read great books, write books of his own, and spend time with friends and extended family.

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