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Religious Organizations Collaborate to Combat Effects of Gentrification

Amid Black History Month, a group of D.C. religious organizations–comprised of various pastors– have recognized that in order to secure Black futures, they must invest in Black homeownership.

Amid Black History Month, a group of D.C. religious organizations–comprised of various pastors–  have recognized that in order to secure Black futures, they must invest in Black homeownership.  

The Black Equity Through Homeownership (BETH) program is an initiative of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) that seeks to help Black homeowners and long-term D.C. residents negatively impacted by housing displacement and gentrification find homes.

BETH encourages homeowners to contact WIN before selling their homes to developers. WIN consists of a network that organizes to stop displacement by advocating for the sale of homes to Black homebuyers at affordable prices. In effort to support long-term Black residents in D.C., BETH also seeks to rebuild homes to diminish blight in communities. The pastors did not disclose prices at which they sold homes to families.

Founded in 1996, WIN describes itself as “a non-partisan, multi-faith, multi-racial and District-wide citizens’ power organization.” The group consists of about 50 churches, synagogues, mosques, nonprofits and a union that work together to provide and advocate for housing justice for D.C. residents.

After acquiring land from the local government in the mid-90s, First Rock Baptist Church, a member organization of WIN, developed a seniors home as well as 10 homes on H Street in NE and five homes on Hanna Place in SE, and sold them all to Black families.

Since then, WIN has worked to produce over 1,300 affordable rental housing units – with more in the pipeline – for Black families in D.C.

The BETH program is focused on capital fundraising, advocating for more affordable housing, and raising awareness with local officials on behalf of residents who want to remain in the city, despite housing changes and property price increases. Additionally, BETH created a fund for homes in need of repair.

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Rev. Anthony L. Minter of First Rock Baptist Church, located in Southeast D.C., serves as co-chair of WIN’s Strategy Team.

“The idea is to establish a revenue flow to purchase vacant homes throughout the city which are blight in the communities. If we could get the money that would allow us to purchase, then we could sell them to those who serve the people,” Minter said. “Homeownership is unaffordable to long-term residents, teachers and policemen working in the city. The idea is to remedy that, hoping that elected officials will see the value of retaining historical DC residents.”

Bianca Allen is a masters student in Howard’s School of Divinity, originally from Newark, NJ. Allen intends on working with religious organizations, nonprofits and the private sector to improve social conditions after her studies. Allen believes the Washington Interfaith Network’s BETH program should be replicated by as many churches as possible. She believes the Howard community can support the program by connecting graduate and undergraduate students, employees, as well as parents of undergraduates looking to buy homes.

“With so many needing housing, banding together to buy homes is an initiative I would love to see more churches committed to. This opens the door for community revitalization, development and retail infrastructure, which prevents homeowners from leaving their community for their needs,” Allen said.

Rev. Andre Greene of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, located in Northeast D.C., is a member of WIN and one of the leaders of the BETH initiative. 

“Due to historical redlining and other issues, in the past 15 years or so, over 20,000 Black people have moved outside the District because they can’t afford living here even with a good job. We said we’re going to make sure that we can get money to help people that want to stay in the district,” Greene said.

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As gradual inflation has increased the cost of goods, increased the cost of living and diminished the quality of life for economically challenged workers over the last few decades, the incomes and wages workers receive has lagged or experienced stagnation. Despite recently popular use of the term, gentrification is an international phenomenon that has existed in America and other nations for decades if not centuries.

Leah Burgess is also a student in Howard’s School of Divinity, and joint degree candidate seeking master’s degrees in Divinity and Social Work. Burgess plans on serving marginalized communities after her studies and believes the Howard community should support initiatives seeking to help D.C. residents experiencing housing displacement.

“I love that WIN is looking to resist the impact of gentrification and the unfortunate marginalization of native Washingtonians. It is critical for those that are doing well in the District to assist others,” Burgess said.

Leon Christmas is a Senior Loan Officer at the JFL team of Apex Mortgage, a mortgage firm that operates in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia and Pennsylvania. Christmas believes WIN is providing much needed support and education in home ownership, which is the foundation of wealth building and the leading asset in transferable wealth, and that HBCUs can also support.

“WIN is providing an underserved demographic access to the American Dream, but Black people must also educate themselves on the home buying process and practice saving to buy assets instead of incurring debt or purchasing liabilities,”  Christmas said. “HBCUs play a huge role in preparing the next generation of homeowners and should continuously promote and educate about the benefits of homeownership.”

Howard University has historically endured attempts of gentrification in the past. Recently, HU Social Work students met with members of WIN for a listening session to discuss social and economic issues, and the importance of homeownership in Black communities. On March 20, 2022, WIN is hosting a virtual rally in support of Black homeowners.

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Copy edited by Jasper Smith.

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