Otis Milton, a mortgage broker from Los Angeles, talks about the barriers that have historically kept Black families from owning their homes. Photo by Ann Belser.

On the first Saturday of Black History Month, more than 200 people, most of them Black women, spent the day looking toward their future as homeowners.

In the first quarter of 2022, when 74% of white families owned homes nationwide, just 44.7% of Black families did. It is a disparity that has existed for generations and is even wider than it was in 1930, when just under half of white families owned their own homes while nearly a quarter of Black families did.

The Pittsburgh alumnae chapter of the historically Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta organized the forum on Black homeownership on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Petra International Ministries in East Hills to address some of the disparities in homeownership.

“There’s a huge connection between homeownership and economic wealth,” Monique Winston, the owner of MWINS Consulting of Houston, said before the forum started. “I know people who used the equity in their home to start a business or put their children through college.”

Winston said that building generational wealth isn’t just about passing a home or money to the next generation, it is also about passing on financial knowledge to succeeding generations.

Otis Milton, a mortgage adviser from Los Angeles, said the rate of homeownership for Black residents in Pittsburgh was 10 percentage points lower than the national average, with just 33% of Black Pittsburghers owning their own home. White residents are doing a little better than the national average — 74.5% own their residences.

“When we pass away, our kids inherit debt,” Milton said. “When [white people] pass away, their kids inherit assets.”

Milton pointed to some of the disparities that lead to lower homeownership for Black people, such as higher rates of mortgage denials, citing the 2022 report “State Of Housing in Black America,” which was commissioned by the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.

The report states that “In 2021, Black applicants experienced a 15% denial rate for conventional loans compared to a rate of 6% for white applicants.”

One reason for the disparity the report uncovered is the income gap between Black and white workers: “In 2021, 41 percent of Black applicants had incomes at or below 80% of the local [Area Median Income] AMI, compared to 29% of white applicants. Only 29% of Black applicants had very high incomes (more than 120% of the local AMI), compared to 46% of white applicants.”

Milton, 36, says he grew up in a generation that is not used to waiting. He says even when they wanted a snack, they could pop something in a microwave and have a hot meal in a minute.

But, he said, saving for a downpayment and getting credit straightened out takes longer.

He also reminded the audience that they must stop spending to save. As an example, he used the hypothetical purchase of an automobile. In that case, if a potential home buyer lowers their car loan by $500 a month, they can afford a home that has a $250,000 higher purchase price, since car loans are typically repaid over five years, but a mortgage is paid for in 30 years.

Lisa Harris is a realtor from Stanton Heights and an alumnae of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which sponsored the Black homeownership forum. Photo by Ann Belser.

Lisa Harris, a realtor from Stanton Heights, talked about the difference between owning a home and renting, telling the gathering that when they own a home, they are responsible for repairs. She also noted that when buying a home, procrastination is not their friend, because the longer they wait to look at a home they may like, the more likely it will be to have been purchased by someone else.

The audience was a mix of homeowners and renters.

Robin Mixon, of Knoxville, already owns two homes including one she purchased in 1979, but said she wanted to update her knowledge about the market.

Samantha Turner, of East Liberty, brought her son Eli Turner of Wilkinsburg. Neither of them own their homes. A mother and grandmother, Samantha Turner is a nursing assistant but is studying medical billing and coding. She said when she finishes her education, she wants to start the process of buying a house.

“I want to be able to provide something for my children and grandchildren that is ours,” she said. She also said she dreams of her grandchildren coming over to all sleep under the roof of the house that she owns.

One participant who dreams of homeownership was a person who has worked on some of the biggest housing deals in the city. Lindsay Powell, a member of the board of directors of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, was on hand to listen to the presentations, not as a professional, but as a potential buyer. For the years that she has been helping others to buy homes, she has not purchased one of her own.

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.