COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–A new initiative designed to increase homeownership among minority communities in Columbus is launching next week.

The effort, dubbed Convergence Columbus, is being spearheaded by the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. Columbus-based nonprofit housing developer Homeport will provide financial education to homebuyers as part of the program, and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Agency is also working closely with the initiative.

“The goal is to create a set of messages that will help us reach the residents in the community, those who are ready to be homeowners but aren’t aware that they’re ready or those who want to get ready,” said Steve O’Connor, senior vice president for affordable housing initiatives at the Mortgage Banking Association.

According to the association’s findings, the homeownership rate for non-Hispanic white people in the U.S. is more than 70%. In 2016, the homeownership rate for Black people in the U.S. was 41.7%. Hispanic homeownership remains below 50% and is trending upwards.

Sonja Nelson, vice president for resident initiatives for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, said the initiative is focusing on the disparities and racial inequities responsible for that disparity.

“It’s not just taking what was already out there and repackaging it, and introducing it to the community,” Nelson said. “It’s actually taking a look at some of our current practices, lending practices, really unraveling ‘How did we get here in the first place?’ and then seeing how we can fix what those issues were.”

Luecke said the gap is a problem because owning a home is a key way people are able to build equity.

“That is the largest source of wealth that many people will have,” Luecke said. “It just gives or provides one more opportunity and I guess a larger personal balance sheet for that individual or that family to use to help prosper.”

Nelson said CMHA will provide access for residents to give input and then use that feedback to create appropriate solutions.

CMHA already provides a family self-sufficiency program in which participants have a goal of becoming welfare-cash free by having earned income through employment, Nelson said. CMHA also has a homeownership program that subsidizes mortgages for individuals.

“I look at my department as having an opportunity of being able to move people towards economic self-sufficiency so that they will be supported in no longer having the subsidy, which now will create an opportunity for us to serve someone else,” Nelson said.

The new initiative will officially launch during a virtual forum on Wednesday. The forum begins at at 9 a.m. and registration is free.

Columbus and Nashville, Tennessee, are the first two cities to pilot the initiative. Nashville’s program launched in March 2020.

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