Home Sweet Home: Congressional Black Caucus Initiative Leads HBCU, Community College Students Down the Road to Homeownership

Article excerpt

When students graduate from college, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) wants to make sure they hold the keys to economic success. And one of those keys, the CBCF says, should unlock the door to their own home. Toward this end, the foundation has embarked upon an initiative to help young people graduate from renters to homeowners.

Through three-hour workshops held on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities, the CBCF's Student Home Ownership Program (S.H.O.P.), which began its tour of HBCUs last spring, is working to educate young people about the importance of managing money wisely, establishing good credit habits and building wealth through homeownership.

And instead of paying for the course, graduating seniors who participate receive a $1,000 voucher, good for two years toward the down payment and closing costs on a home.

"We started the program based on one statistic--that 46.6 percent of African Americans were homeowners," says Simone Griffin, S.H.O.P. program coordinator.

The program is funded by the CitiGroup Foundation, State Farm Insurance Cos., and the Fannie Mae Foundation.

According to recent U.S. Census Bureau's housing and homeownership statistics, the African American homeownership rate has risen slightly to 48 percent, but it still lags far behind the 68 percent rate for all Americans and 75 percent rate among non-Hispanic White Americans.

CBCF wants to establish a pattern of early home ownership among African American college graduates that can be passed on to family members and future generations toward the goal of erasing the homeownership gap.

"We can change that paradigm, and I wanted to come up with a program to allow them to do it," says Janice R. Crump, CBCF's director of media relations and communications.

S.H.O.P.'s genesis is based on the path Cramp and her husband took after graduating from college. The couple purchased their first home in Atlanta when they were both 23 and built their second home in North Carolina at age 28. The Crumps have passed on that lesson of homeownership to their three children.

Two years after graduating from Spelman College in 1996, Crump's daughter Toiya also built her first home in Atlanta.

"Rent is way too much, and you don't see any equity," Toiya says.

The CBCF's S.H.O.P.'s focus on young professionals appears to be in step with national trends. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2003 housing vacancy report, the homeownership rates among people under age 35 have increased at a faster rate than other age groups.

"It is the best time to do it," says Janice Crump. "As you get older you acquire more debt. The value of those things depreciates as soon as you buy them. Our home is the only thing that appreciates in value the moment you step into it."

S.H.O.P. pilot projects started in spring 2003 at Jackson State, Howard, Hampton and Xavier universities. During the 2003-2004 school year, 27 schools hosted S.H.O.P. workshops. CBCF plans to make the rounds to the more than 100 HBCUs around the country.

None of the students who participated in the program in 2003 or 2004 are homeowners yet, but says Griffin, they were not expected to be.

"You have this whole group of people and they are going to be making a good amount of money. So what we wanted to do is to get them while they are a captive audience," Griffin says.

The goal for the program is not to increase the number of people who own homes by age 25, but "to get the ball rolling," Griffin says, adding that once a person makes a decision to buy a home, it generally takes three to five years to go through with the process.

"Buying a home is my first priority when I get a well-paying job," says Malikah McCormick, senior class president at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

McCormick assisted Griffin in the planning and promotion of the S. …