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First shared equity program to help Black families break into housing market launches in Canada

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Regina Magambo dreams of owning a house.

But she says the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on her small business and her income as a single parent make the prospect of homeownership seem “nearly impossible.”

Magambo and her three children, aged two, four and eight, currently rent a three-bedroom home in Oakville, Ont., west of Toronto. They’ve been renting at this location for five years.

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With an annual household income that has been reduced to $65,000 because of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, she feels “priced out” of the housing market because of its frenzied run-up in prices.

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Still, Magambo says homeownership would be transformative for her family.

“It would mean legacy. It would mean financial security. It would mean stability and it would mean something to pass on to my children,” she said.

The BlackNorth Home Ownership Bridge Program aims to help 200 families buy a home in the GTA this year. Photo supplied

On Feb.18, the federal government announced $10 million to help 200 Black families, like Magambo’s, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) purchase a first home.

Homeownership rates among Black Canadians are among the lowest of any racialized group and the BlackNorth Initiative Home Ownership Bridge seeks to counter systemic barriers and help families like Magambo’s break into the market.

Census data from 2016 shows that ownership rates among Black households are nearly 40 per cent– significantly lower than the national homeownership rate of 68 per cent. RBC analysis also suggests that if racialized groups including Black Canadians owned homes at levels comparable to white Canadians, their collective net worth would be boosted by $100 billion.

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Unaffordable housing

Those who don’t currently own a home, like Magambo, are finding it especially challenging to get into a market that has soared during the pandemic, spurred by very low mortgage rates, surging demand for more space and a structural housing shortage.

Based on the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s (TRREB) latest data, home prices in the GTA rose 28 per cent last month from last year, marking the second-hottest February on record.

The average home price in Toronto suburbs is now $1,402,948, according to TRREB.

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Magambo has been house-hunting for some time and pre-qualified for a $600,000 mortgage. But she says finding something suitable for her household of four people with that budget is difficult in the Toronto area.

With so much competition for limited supply, Magambo says her $600,000 budget doesn’t go far.

“You just never know what the cost of a home is until after a bidding war happens,” she says.

For Magambo, the opportunity to create intergenerational wealth through owning a home would be empowering and meaningful.

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“It would create opportunities for my children in the future so that means the world to me,” she says. “It lets me know that I wouldn’t be working in vain, but that I would be working towards something.”

Addressing systemic hurdles

The BlackNorth housing initiative is set up to reduce the cost of homeownership by pooling funding from different sources, including the federal government, to allow families at a lower income to enter the market.

A 2019 study by RBC found that about 90 per cent of parents with adult children under the age of 35 were providing financial support for their children to afford a home. This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “the bank of mom and dad” is, according to BlackNorth chairman Wes Hall, less of a factor among Black families who have collectively gotten “a late start” breaking into the housing market.

Working with builders, philanthropists and governments, Hall says selected applicants to the program can build up “sweat equity” — meaning things like working to build up a Black-owned business can be used as credits towards a down payment.

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He says the $10 million committed by the federal government entails a loan which applicants must repay to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC), though they will have “easier terms with respect to interest rates.”

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The novel concept involves a two-mortgage system where the first mortgage is through a conventional lender like a bank or credit union, at market interest rates. A second so-called “silent” mortgage is provided through the BlackNorth Bridge Program which lowers the down payment required and reduces monthly mortgage payments. Applicants pay off the mortgage with the traditional lender in full first before repaying BlackNorth.

The first phase of the project aims to select and match 200 families with homes in the first year of its rollout, with plans to expand beyond Toronto in the future and to serve 1,000 families, according to Hall.

Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, the executive director of BlackNorth, says this initiative is part of a multi-pronged strategy to combat systemic factors that have kept many Black families from the path of homeownership.

“We are building a different playbook to address anti-Black racism and eradicate it from our society,” she tells Global News.

“Housing is definitely a core mandate and we wanted to build a program that was going to create wealth and mobility for the Black community.”

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