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Financial Literacy alone is a False Solution for BIPOC families becoming homeowners in Grand Rapids

February 22, 2022

Over the past 30  years the average wealth of white families has grown by 84%—1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and three times the rate of growth for the black population. If that continues, the next three decades would see the average wealth of white households increase by over $18,000 per year, while Latino and Black households would see their respective wealth increase by only $2,250 and $750 per year.Institute for Policy Studies

Last week, WZZM 13 did a story that began with this sentence, “There’s a new initiative in Grand Rapids to help 1,000 families of color become homeowners over the next three years.” Sounds like an important project.

The initiative is being led by two groups, 1000 Families of Color, Inc. and Project Green. 

According to Project Green’s website, there are three major goals: Financial Capability, Fair Lending, and Advocacy. The paragraph that accompanies Advocacy states:

You have the power to change systems! We just want to encourage you to use it. And we will stand with you as you do. That’s what advocacy is. Project GREEN stands with our fellow citizens to remove barriers that keep them from reaching their financial goals. We train, coach, and equip everyday people to bring about changes that will help the broader community in the area of economic stability and fair lending. This advocacy team focuses on community-centered initiatives that destroy systemic barriers to economic success – so all of us have equal opportunities to thrive.

Upon further investigation of the Project Green website, the only systemic barrier they identify are lending agencies. Beyond that, it seems that most of what Project Green does is to teach people how to manage their money better and improve their credit score. 

The WZZM 13 story says that the groups will partner with Realtors, Lenders, Churches and other non-profits, “to provide the education and resources needed to make becoming a homeowner a reality.”

Hey, I’m all in favor of people learning financial skills and I support people being a homeowner, but why is it that these groups avoid the obvious when it comes to real advocacy? 

Families of Color are not poor simply because of financial management, they are poor and can’t afford a house because:

  • Most people are priced out of the current housing market, because the housing market is driven by profits and going to the highest bidder. 
  • Structural Racism is a major factor for Families of Color, with banks and other financial institutions disproportionately unwilling to provides loans. 
  • Most BIPOC families don’t earn a Living Wage. 
  • There is a lack of generational wealth, with Black and other communities of color suffering from Structural Racism, with less access to education, along with the economic legacies of Slavery and Jim Crow policies. 

If Project Green really wants BIPOC families to own homes, then they need to push for a Living Wage, put an end to Structural Racism, advocate for the regulation of the housing market, plus acknowledge and dismantle the historical legacies of Structural Racism and Jim Crow policies that continue to prevent BIPOC families from obtaining economic justice. 

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