Amid the pandemic, Black home buyers create a new community narrative

From January to September 2020, Black Millennials across the country began purchasing a lot of homes. The National Association of Realtors tracked the trend. In November, NAR released data showing Black people age 26 to 39 accounted for 5% of home buyers in the U.S. during the first six months of the pandemic. This group raised the homeownership rate of all Black Americans during that time by 2%.

We need this trend to flourish in the Bay Area. Years of gentrification in historically Black neighborhoods have pushed many of my people out of the region. The pandemic spurred some outward migration in San Francisco. Housing remains expensive and inventory is low, but there’s still space in the demand for a Black presence.

Black people must capitalize on this chaotic moment. This could be the time to increase our community wealth and to have a real investment in the future of the Bay Area.

Natalie Goolsby, a Black homeowner, told me the preservation of Black culture is why she recently purchased a two-bedroom house in East Oakland. Goolsby is renting one of the rooms to her niece and is looking for more local housing to buy. A growing number of her Black friends are doing the same, she said.

They’re focusing their efforts on Oakland. The city has a long history of being a Black cultural mecca. Oakland gained national attention in the 1940s and 1950s when Black jazz and blues musicians turned West Oakland into the Harlem of the West. The Black Panther Party was born in the 1960s. By the 1980s, we were half of Oakland’s population. Now we’re closer to 23%, according to U.S. census data. This decrease hasn’t dimmed Oakland’s significance as a landmark for Black America.

“Growing up out here, you knew if you wanted to be around Black people, you came to Oakland,” Goolsby said. “I wanted to do my part to keep driving Black homeownership. … Right now is the time we should be doing this.”

 Amid the pandemic, Black home buyers create a new community narrative

Natalie Goolsby inside of the home she bought in Oakland.

Sarahbeth Maney / Special to The Chronicle

It won’t be easy drawing more Black folks to the effort. We wearily remember how our communities were debilitated by the country’s financial crisis in 2008. Our household wealth in 2009 was around $5,700, compared with $113,000 for white households, according to the Pew Research Center. From 2007 to 2010, our home equity dropped by an average of 28%, according to a 2013 study published by the Urban Institute. And many Black homeowners became renters.

Black communities have yet to recover. Our 13% of the U.S. population accounts for only 4% of the country’s overall wealth. The homeownership gap between Black and white Americans was nearly 30% in 2020. The last time the national gap was this wide was in 1960, before Congress passed the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Land ownership leads to generational wealth in American families, or assets that can be passed from one generation to the next. Historically, Black people have been denied access to this type of financial security. A wave of us buying property in the Bay Area could change that. While both single- and multifamily units may appreciate over time, the extra income that comes with being a landlord could be a boon to Black families.

This fact is why Steve Peterson, the president and CEO of Black-owned Infinity Investments, an Oakland brokerage, said he’s directing Black people to properties with two to four units. Multiple family members may help pay the mortgage, or it may jump-start a family member’s path toward homeownership, he said.

“There is a reawakening, a movement of Black homeownership, Black wealth building, Black business sustainability that I’m seeing across the Bay Area,” he said. “In the world of multifamily homes, apartment buildings, there is a window of opportunity for us. It’s time for Black and brown communities, in both Oakland and San Francisco, to really get back in the market and start buying up our neighborhoods that we lost so much of in the last 20 years.”

Land inequity has been an issue for Black Americans since slavery. America never gave formerly enslaved Africans reparations, or “40 acres and a mule,” for their stolen labor. America’s history of discriminatory practices like redlining and racial covenants has scarred the Black populace. Today, we still find ourselves in neighborhoods where access to mortgage loans and other capital are limited, and even the homes some of us own can be undervalued just because we’re Black.

Combating the fear and hesitancy around homeownership can help inspire a Black real estate renaissance in the Bay Area, according to Shawneequa Badger of the Badger Real Estate Group in Oakland.

Over the past two months, Badger said she has worked with numerous Black people interested in buying and investing in local property. She is among a growing number of Black real estate agents and community organizations hosting classes to educate Black home buyers. Her solo efforts are mirrored by community organizations like San Francisco’s SF Black Wallstreet, which was formed in June 2020, and has recently hosted webinars to teach Black locals about buying and selling homes.

“When I do my workshops, I show people the numbers of where we’re at as a population, versus where our white counterparts are in the home-buying and wealth-generating process,” Badger said. “When people start seeing those numbers — for every white dollar, Black families have one cent — when they see that, their thought process tells them they have to buy a home. Right now, we’re seeing a movement. We’re seeing a purpose.”

The purpose, in my eyes, is for Black people to not only survive in the Bay Area, but to thrive. Hearing Black folks are trying to buy more land in this pandemic is a beautiful way to start the process.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips appears Sundays. Email: Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

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