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A house with bushes and a white picket fence. On the right a quote from Marcia Griffin, founder and president of HomeFree-USA, reads,

Improving the path to homeownership for America’s diverse communities

Since 1994, HomeFree-USA has worked to educate and empower African American and other diverse communities with the guidance they need to achieve and sustain homeownership.

July 15, 2019

Viewpoints’ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Marcia Griffin, founder and president of HomeFree-USA.


An African-American woman smiles for the camera.
Marcia Griffin is the founder and president of HomeFree-USA

In 1900, the gap between the percentage of white Americans who owned a home and the percentage of black Americans who owned a home stood at 27.6%.

While that is not very surprising, considering that the United States was just 35 years removed from the abolition of slavery, what may shock you is that today that gap is even bigger. According to a recent study by Zillow.com, black homeowners currently trail white homeowners by 30.3%.

HomeFree-USA is committed to turning those numbers around.

Since 1994, HomeFree-USA has worked tirelessly to elevate diverse communities across the country and empower families to achieve the dream of homeownership. Our network of more than 50 nonprofit homeownership organizations has guided more than 24,000 families to homeownership with a 0% foreclosure rate among families who have gone through our HomeFree-USA homebuying process.

But, as the numbers show us, there is much more work to be done.

Most businesses focus on return on investment, or ROI. At HomeFree-USA, we are focused on “return on people.” If we are going to increase the number of black homeowners, we must prepare them for financial success, build trust with lenders, and guide homebuyers through a process that leads to approvals and not denials.

One way HomeFree-USA is working to do this is through an innovative program called Step Into Your Power: Prepare for Success through Homeownership©. Starting in Baltimore, HomeFree-USA will elevate homeownership and the economic stature of black families across America with this scalable, model initiative.

Thanks to partners like Wells Fargo, who bring thousands of dollars in down payment and closing cost assistance, there are a number of valuable programs available to potential homebuyers to help restore black wealth in Baltimore. Step Into Your Power will help people tap into this incredible opportunity so they can get on the road to success through homeownership.

Two images, on the left, an African American man and woman stand in their home's kitchen. On the right, an African American woman stands at her home's front door.
For 25 years, HomeFree-USA has helped thousands of Americans find the right path to homeownership, including Brian and Monet, left, and Miko. Photo credit: HomeFree-USA.

We feel that it is imperative to create new messages, and in some cases new messengers, to speak to diverse homebuyers. Over the next 18 months, HomeFree-USA and partners, such as leadership expert Stedman Graham, will work together to guide, educate, and coach first-time Baltimore city homebuyers to mortgage-readiness, default resistance, and homeownership. Our role at HomeFree-USA is to give potential homebuyers the tools they need to become mortgage-ready and then connect them to lenders. When we partner, everybody wins.

Once the Step Into Your Power initiative is up and running in Baltimore, it will be launched in other cities.

Diversity is critical to the future success of the mortgage industry

If we are able to change the way people feel about homeownership and show them that preparation can help them succeed, we can turn the statistics around.

The Center for Financial Advancement™ is another HomeFree-USA initiative that seeks to reach the next generation of African American homebuyers by bringing diversity to the mortgage industry. We partner with, recruit, train, and place students from historically black colleges and universities to intern in mortgage and real estate companies.

As a result of HomeFree-USA’s coordination and oversight of the program, the HBCUs become a homeownership engine in their communities. Through the program, participating CFA Scholars learn about credit, money management, homeownership, and entrepreneurship — setting them up to become well-informed consumers and future homeowners.

The program also changes the perspective of young people about what they can accomplish financially. Having grown up during the mortgage crisis, many black college students, in particular, have seen loved ones lose their homes. Many have also witnessed the financial struggles of family members in the wake of the Great Recession.

Through this program, with mortgage industry leaders such as Wells Fargo, we expose students from HBCUs to a different reality and give them the life skills and confidence they need to become financial leaders and successful homeowners of the future.

At HomeFree-USA, we know that people in diverse communities just want a better life — they want to do better, they want more for themselves, and they want more for their children.

We believe they deserve more, but without guidance and direction, it is difficult for many families to get ahead. Our role at HomeFree-USA is to help them take giant transformational steps to get there.

As we work to uplift diverse communities through a confidence-building process that leads to mortgage approvals, sustainable homebuyers, and happier families, it's going to require smart people in the industry working together. None of us can do it alone, and the work we do connecting lenders to diverse communities allows all of us to win.

It is my hope that in the years to come, the gap between black and white homeownership will be nothing more than a footnote in history.

HomeFree-USA intends to play a major role in making that happen.

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