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  • Writer's pictureRe'Neisha Lee, MPH

We are Family: HCES’ Role in Assisting Families Maintain Sustainable Living amidst the Pandemic

Disparities in Homeownership

“Homeownership is the number one way for African Americans to build wealth,” said Ron Cooper, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). For perspective, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) is about the same age as millennials’ parents, but has it really increased fair practices in the past 55 years? African Americans continue to be a target audience in systemic racism and predatory lending practices. Implicated by lower salaries, credit scores, and even a lower degree of education, many African American families remain the highest group denied access to homeownership. And those that are granted access are unaware of the long-term commitment of home buying.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the purpose of the FHA was to prevent discrimination and reverse housing segregation. With more homeowners being white, and more Black people living in impoverished communities, the question stands, how much did the FHA improve the Black community?

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus was to “stop the spread” of the disease and prioritize the health and well-being of the nation. We failed to consider the economic hardships that those trying to maintain their housing situation and avoid eviction felt. The risk of eviction increased and worsened during the pandemic, especially among people of color and low-income populations. All while becoming concerned about an illness with little to no research, another persisting issue was how people would be able to provide for the families during shut-down in which many people were either unemployed or underemployed. COVID-19 showed us that the government was unprepared for a devastating pandemic AND highlighted the pre-existing and previously ignored housing disparities.

Fun fact: the Black homeownership rate has not changed since Black families were given the opportunity to purchase homes in 1968. Systemic racism continues to contribute to the persistence of inequality between Black and white families, especially regarding finances. The home ownership rate for whites is almost twice that for Blacks (71.1% versus 41.1%, respectively), with the gap in housing continuing to grow between the two groups due to discrimination and lack of wealth in the Black family. According to 2019 data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, the median in wealth assets among Black families was $24,100 in wealth assets – a mere 12.7% of the $189,100 in wealth owned by the average white family.

Homeowner Assistant Programs

Purchasing a house isn’t just the only worry for the black family – being able to afford and maintain payments are struggles. What if you were $20,000 behind on your mortgage and given six months of assistance to help with all your bills, free of charge? In what ways could you benefit from this support? What sounds like the impossible for some, became a reality for Florida residents. The Florida Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) was established by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to assist homeowners who were behind on their mortgages after the COVID-19 pandemic. HAF was established under Section 3206 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided over $676,102,379 in financial assistance to Florida through the United States Department of the Treasury.

Partnering with the Florida DEO, Healthcare Equity Solutions (HCES) assisted with mitigating financial hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic by assisting DEO with outreach efforts, registration assistance, application assistance, and processing of applications associated with the HAF program. Many services were provided through the HAF program, including mortgage assistance, property taxes, homeowners' insurance, utilities, internet, and HOA/condominium fees. Once an application was approved, funds would be paid directly to the service provider. The Florida DEO ensured that applicants could pay all debts and keep up with their bills.

Delivering Equity to Communities

The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of health (SDH) as non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. These are conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the broader set of forces and systems shaping the needs of daily life, including economic policies and system procedures, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems.

Countries follow a social gradient at all income levels, health, and disease state – in general, the lower the socioeconomic position, the worse the health. The HAF program ensured that health outcomes were met within specific communities. The five social determinants of health that have been met through HAF include:

  1. Income and social protection;

  2. Unemployment and job insecurity;

  3. Housing, basic amenities, and the environment;

  4. Structural conflict; and

  5. Access to affordable health services of decent quality.

The amount of assistance garnered towards families would be based on their average monthly income (AMI). For example, if a family were under 80%, they would receive forwarding payments to assist with payment of their bills. At the end of August, DEO implemented a policy change where all approved applications would receive six months of forwarding payments, which allowed even more homeowners to receive assistance.  Conclusion - Contributing to a Sustainable Life for Minority Groups Socrates once said, “I only know that I know nothing,” or, simply put, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” HCES assisted with ensuring the residents of Florida were adequately educated on ways to maintain a sustainable life. By staffing employees who could assist Florida residents in completing their homeowner assistance applications, HCES prioritized relieving any hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic created. The staff onboarded with the HAF program helped disperse over $393 million to be awarded to over 16,000 Florida homeowners to assist with financial hardships. Striving for equity, the mission of HAF aligned with the ideas set forth by HCES. It is imperative that education and resources for secure home ownership be provided for brown and Black communities. The HAF program understood that COVID-19 only made sustainable housing more difficult for minoritized groups and ensured that they could maintain their lives, even if it were just for a short period of time.

Learn more about the Florida DEO efforts by reading their official press releases.

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