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Southern Nevada Leaders Work To Close The Black Homeownership Gap

Associated Press

In Southern Nevada, homeownership for Black Americans is at about 35 percent. A rate that lags white homeownership by more than 30 percent, according to the Urban Institute. 

To address that and other issues, leaders from Las Vegas’ private and public sectors have united to create the coalition, Make Homes Possible. The coalition's goal is to help close the Black homeownership gap.  

Elias Benjelloun is the head of Homie Helps, which is a community initiative of Homie, a tech-based real estate company, that is supporting the coalition’s first year.

Homeownership is the heart of the American Dream, Benjelloun told KNPR's State of Nevada, but it is also where most Americans build wealth.

"For most Americans, your home is your biggest bedrock," he said, "Where you live is also going to have an effect on what school you can go to, what health services are available, how safe of a neighborhood you live in."

Benejelloun said historic barriers, like the fact that Federal Housing Authority loans weren't available to African Americans until after the Fair Housing Act passed in the late 60s, prevented many Black families from buying homes and then passing that wealth onto their children. 

But there are current barriers for many Black families, like uncertain income, debt and low credit scores. His organization hopes to address those challenges.

"We're supporting the coalition with marketing efforts so that we can make sure that we're getting all of these resources in front of the communities that historically did not have access to these resources," he said.

But it is not just about information, another layer to the problem is the wage gap between white and Black Americans.

Benejelloun said a master class on homeownership planned for the end of the month is aimed at helping people find the resources they need to buy a home no matter where they are on the journey. 

"It's true that some folks are going to be two months away and ready to buy sooner rather than later, and there are going to be many others that are two years and beyond away," he said, "I think it takes a concerted effort with all of the organization partners here to help."

Benejelloun said if someone who wants to buy a home needs a job, then the partners need to help them, or if they need downpayment assistance, a partner can step in with that assistance. 

This is not a problem unique to Southern Nevada, he said, cities across the country are working on the same problem, which means there is no playbook that Nevada could mimic to bridge the gap.

"We're not pioneering here necessarily," Benejellou said, "There are many studies that have been done by the federal government and other organizations for years to address this issue and there's just been a lack of action."

Benejelloun said his organization is now working for local action on the issue.

Another group that is part of the action plan is Nevada Partners. The nonprofit has been working on a number of issues related to the Southern Nevada community since the Rodney King riots of the 1990s.

Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson is the executive director of Nevada Partners. She said owning a home is life-changing for people.

"Homeownership is the most significant route to families building personal wealth in the 20th Century," she said, "So, the fact that Blacks have been kept out of that and had significant barriers to that is where the problem lies and why an initiative such as this is so important."

She said if a family is renting an apartment instead of owning a home they can't create wealth to pass down to their children and grandchildren.

Cobbin-Robinson agreed that it is a multi-layered problem that includes discrimination, affordable housing and the wage gap.

"We have to continue to make sure that Blacks are able to compete for the better jobs," she said, "Nevada Partners, specifically, is trying to move people through an economic progression through apprenticeship, as well as entrepreneurship." 

She said without a good-paying job or your own business that makes a good profit people can't pay for decent housing and the rest of their expenses. 

Cobbin-Robinson said her organization is working on a number of issues that connect, including education, health care, housing, criminal justice reform and social justice. 

"All of those issues and areas are important to address consecutively and at the same time so that people can really move forward," she said.

She also noted that no one organization can address those issues and that is why they are part of the coalition.

The Urban Chamber of Commerce is also part of the effort. 

Ken Evans is the president of the chamber. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that, unfortunately, we are still dealing with some of the vestiges of racism that went on during the 60s and 70s.

"I think there are times when - I'll call it bias or nuiances come into being," he said, "Unfortunately if you're dealing with a realtor or someone in the finance industry, their implicit bias may cause them to think that, 'This person isn't going to be ready or they're probably not going to be a good candidate and make sufficient funds.'"

He said it is important that people deal with those biases so that they don't get in the way of doing a professional job. 

Evans believes people should be both professionally and culturally competent.

"What that gets at is: In order to do a good job make sure that, obviously, you know professionally what to do, but it's also important that from a cultural standpoint you don't let your implicit biases get in the way."

He said acknowledging both implicit biases and intentional racism and then taking action against the issues is the best way to move forward. 

Ken Evans, President, The Urban Chamber of Commerce; Elias Benjelloun, Head, Homie Helps Las Vegas; Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson, Executive Director, Nevada Partners


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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.