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Closing the home ownership, wealth gaps
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Georgia Hudson's four bedroom, two-bathroom house is close to a school and a park. (Brandt Williams)
Minnesota's homeownership rate is among the highest in the nation. However, people of color in Minnesota are less likely than whites to own a home. The largest homeownership gap exists between white and black Minnesotans. The gap alarms housing and civil rights activists who say homeownership is the best way to end generations of poverty.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Loan officer Chris White just can't understand why more of his fellow African Americans, don't own homes. He says if he could buy a home, anyone can.

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Image Chris White

"I had a lot of things going against me, as far as income, experience and my credit history and all those things," says White. "But I was still able to do so." White is 20 years-old and a member of the Cross Cultural Home Ownership Alliance. The group leads educational forums for potential homebuyers.

Every week for the last several months White and other members of the alliance have been preaching the gospel of homeownership on a forum broadcast live from Lucille's Kitchen in North Minneapolis on KMOJ radio.

White and his colleagues sermonize about the benefits of home ownership. He says too many young people would rather spend their money on rent and a car with expensive 22 inch rims rather than making an investment in the future.

"You don't have anything to pass on to your children," he says. "You're just throwing that rent to -- you're paying someone else's mortgage, you're not paying your own mortgage. So we're going to keep banging this over your head just like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent bangs those 22's over your head. Get those. I know a lot of us --- we have some like that, but we got homes first."

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Home equity is the most common form of wealth in the U.S. Minnesota's homeownership gap is actually a wealth gap - and it particularly affects African-Americans. According to a survey by the Federal Reserve, in 2001, the typical white American family had more than six times as much wealth as the typical black family.

Over three-fourths of white Minnesotans own homes. A little over half of all Asian Americans; just under half of American Indians; and four in 10 hispanics in Minnesota are homeowners. Only a third of African Americans in Minnesota own homes.

Vusi Zulu, the associate director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, says homeownership is a gateway to political power. Zulu says historically, Americans who own property have had more say in the laws and policies that govern what happens on the land. He says slavery, followed by other forms of discriminatory public policy put African Americans way behind the wealth curve.

"If we don't have the homeownership, you can't pass it along, which has been mentioned before," says Zulu. "Which means we wind up having generations upon generations who are dependent rather than being able to be economically independent."

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Image Hmong homebuyers

There are dozens of public and private programs and initiatives available to help Minnesotans with no income, low income or credit problems become property owners. The state of Minnesota budgeted $220 million through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, for below market rate loans for first time homebuyers in 2004. The agency's goal is that at least 17 percent of those loans go to people of color.

In Minneapolis, Section 8 recipients are eligible to use their vouchers toward a mortgage. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority was the first public housing authority in the nation to implement the program. Fifteen families have utilized the program since it got going in May of 2000.

The majority of those families are African American, like Georgia Hudson and her two sons.

Hudson maneuvers around the boxes and unarranged furniture in the home she bought in the Nokomis neighbhorhood in Minneapolis near the airport. The program requires her to spend 30 percent of her household income on the mortgage. The balance of the payment will come from the public housing authority.

The four bedroom, 2 bathroom house is close to a school and a park. Hudson says she can ride her bike to the VA hospital where she works.

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Image Jeff Washburne

"It's very much exciting," says Hudson. "Instead of renting, putting all that money somewhere else, you get to put it towards yourself. And I can remodel anyway I want."

Despite all the money and educational programs available to prospective buyers, there are still barriers to homeownership - not the least of which is increasing home prices. But housing advocates say one of their biggest challenges is breaking down the barriers people set for themselves.

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