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Mortgage Impact Podcast: Black homeownership in America

By: Jennifer Bates
October 4, 2019

In this episode of the Mortgage Impact Podcast, Movement Mortgage CEO Casey Crawford and Director of Corporate Strategy Montell Watson discuss the growing gap in Black American homeownership. It's a complex issue. It's a challenge our generation must rise to meet. Help us start the conversation and work toward closing the gap. You can listen to the full episode here.

ADAM O'DANIEL:  Welcome back to another episode of “The Mortgage Impact” podcast.  I'm your host Adam O'Daniel.  And today, we have an episode that is exciting, is special, but I would categorize it as important.  This is an important topic that we're talking about today with our guest Casey Crawford, CEO of Movement Mortgage, Montell Watson, director of corporate strategy at Movement Mortgage.  And, guys, we're going to talk about homeownership and the gap in homeownership rates between black Americans and white Americans and this historic gap that we're now faced with as a nation, and as a mortgage lender, the unique space that Movement and others in this industry now sit in to try to stand up and do something about this issue that faces our nation.  So I guess to start us off– it is a heavy topic–but, Casey, we'll just kind of kick this to you.  Why is this something that's important to you?  And why is it something that Movement for the last couple of months has started to talk about? I know you kind of kicked it off with a LinkedIn post a couple of months ago, and it's been something that's been on your heart and mind ever since.

CASEY CRAWFORD: Yeah. So, gosh, this is a huge topic.  It is one– it's really been one that has been very much on my heart and mind for years–and that disparity, really, in our country and a lot from my history of where I grew up and how I grew up and what I saw during that time.  But it really came back to the forefront a couple months ago when we had a black team member from Atlanta came up to visit me in Charlotte and really challenged me as a company and said, I really don't think we understand the black experience as it relates to homeownership as an organization, as a company.  And he did it, I think, with a lot of love, a lot of care, concern.  He really had a heart to see our organization get better—still does.

And so he came up to challenge me in that way.  And you know, it really kind of took me back, actually, at first, because I actually think of myself as somebody who very much has a heart for black homeownership and a really diverse experience in the United States, because I grew up very much in that experience in a lot of ways.  Both neighbors on either side of me were black.  Growing up, usually I was, you know, one of the only white kids on my team.  I grew up in a predominately black environment at a really young age in elementary school.  And you know, it was something I was very familiar with in many ways, but in other ways not familiar with at all.  Because as a white man, I just–I really can't appreciate many the experiences of even some of my dearest black friends and what they've gone through and what they continue to kind of go through on the journey to homeownership.  And Jared really made me aware of a lot of, I think, cultural perceptions around lending that I was just totally blind to, I think, at the time. Things like, hey, there's some assumptions in the borrower's that he was serving—black borrowers he was serving that white-owned banks don't want to extend credit to the black community.  And, man, there was just a lot of underlying assumptions–kind of cultural assumptions–that I was unaware of.  And i said man, OK, if I am this unaware of some of these issues, I know others are as well.  And we've got to do more collectively to start to press in and listen, hear these issues, and then really equip folks that are inside of our community that are passionate about this topic to do something–to do something.  Not that we can solve every problem in America here, but we can do our part, right?  We can do our part.  We can really use the tools and opportunities that God's given us to press into this issue.

So I called another great friend of mine, Montell, who I know's passionate about this issue as well.  And I said, hey, Montell, would you organize our community around this issue?  Man, bring folks in, invite folks in who have a passion for black homeownership, you know, inside of our company, and let's get together and start talking about what we can do.

ADAM O'DANIEL: Montell, what was that like for you when you get the call from Casey as a black American working in the mortgage industry in a leadership position to have your CEO say, hey, I want to start talking about this.  I want to know what we can do.  What kind of went through your head and where have you been at over the last few months?

MONTELL WATSON: Man, it was amazing. It was amazing that you have a leader with a big heart and huge hustle on top of it, right?  He comes out and says, this is a problem that we see here today in America. And let's step in and do something. Right? Let's step in and do something and let's go directly towards our loan office and let's ask. Let's ask the problem–let's see what they see out there today–like, culturally, let's see what they're seeing internally, externally– like, what's going?  What can we do?  How can we step in and help?  And so for me, being a black American– and you know, Casey kind of told his story of how he grew up.  How I grew up was the opposite.  I grew up where I was the only black person on teams and you know, in my high school, the minority.  And so homeownership for my family was not something that was thought out.  And a lot of times, it was because of the same thing you said–trust issues.


MONTELL WATSON:  So I grew up with a dad that still to this day, he keeps cash in his pocket.


MONTELL WATSON: You know what I mean?

ADAM O'DANIEL:  Just a mistrust of the financial system sometimes.


CASEY CRAWFORD: Because of a lot of really harmful practices that were actually systemically implemented by the banking system in the history of America.  I mean, there's a lot of real reasons, I think, that this history of mistrust of financial services companies.

ADAM O'DANIEL: The fear is certainly justified based on the history in our nation and in our industry.  Maybe not today we hope with all the companies that are trying to address this issue, but for folks who've grown up over the years, this is a very real fear.

MONTELL WATSON:   And what I'll say is a lot of organizations–you see it right now in the media a lot right now, people stepping out, talking about it. Casey with his post was out, which so many people have reached out to me and said things about that LinkedIn post is that people are talking about it.  So there is awareness around it.  So creating the awareness is great and then stepping in and starting to have action is something that we need to do. 

ADAM O'DANIEL:  And I know, Montell, one of the things you've been doing over the last weeks and months is you've put together an advisory board of black loan officers.  You've connected with NAMB, the industry association that is tackling this issue in a lot of ways.

But you've also done a lot of research.  You shared some numbers with me this week that are really eye-opening.  I'm going to throw a couple of them out there, and then I'd love for us to just talk about how these numbers land–coming from both of you guys coming from a diverse, a little bit different background growing up and when you start to hear and realize these numbers.  The homeownership in America today–the homeownership rate for whites is 73.1%.  That's pretty high historically.  We're doing well in that demographic for homeownership.  In the black community, it is only at 40.6%.  That is the lowest for black Americans since 1950–that's pre-civil rights movement.  And the gap is the widest we've seen, Casey, I think you said from the folks you've been talking to, in a century.  How does a number like that land for you guys when you hear that when you look at all the prosperity we have as a nation and we're

talking about pre-civil rights era disparities in our black and white homeownership?

CASEY CRAWFORD: I almost can't believe it.  I don't know about you, I can't believe that that's true.  When I think about all the fair lending legislation that's been passed–I think about actually that it was legal systemically to discriminate against black Americans at that time in our country's history.  And even during that time of legal discrimination, there was a lower disparity between white and black homeownership. How's that?

MONTELL WATSON:  It's pretty amazing.

CASEY CRAWFORD:  I don't even understand how that's possible.  It really just blows my mind.  And I think what–man, what grieves me even more than that, or additionally, is that then when you look at that correlated to wealth in America. 

MONTELL WATSON:  Yeah, absolutely.

CASEY CRAWFORD: You look at the average white household having $171,000 average net worth, and the average black household only having a $17,000 net worth.  I saw a more dramatic stat in Boston where it was a white household average $200,000 net worth and a black household average $8.  And it was divided exactly along the lines of homeownership.


CASEY CRAWFORD:  And I think if that wasn't the case, I'd go, OK.  Well you can choose to rent, choose to own.  That's just a kind of family decision maybe.  But when you see it correlate to wealth building and then the class disparity we have in our nation already, you go, man, this is a huge, deep, and expanding problem that we all need to get engaged with.

MONTELL WATSON: Yeah, I think it's definitely–you hear that number, and it is daunting. We've had several conversations around it, and it is very daunting.  And it's a direct correlation, as you see, with homeownership.  So for us, it's like, what can we do?  We need to step in and do something.  But what I will say is that it's not just lenders, right?  It's an issue that you have to have multiple people step in and work together—full integration working together to kind of help solve it.

ADAM O'DANIEL: I think your research that you've pulled from a lot of really trusted institutes- Urban Institute, National Association of Realtors, Freddie Mac obviously put these numbers together.  But there are reasons for this beyond just mortgage, you're right.  I mean, we look at student loan delinquencies.  We know we have a problem in this country of student loans and debt that prevents people from going after a mortgage.  70% of student loan delinquencies are in the African-American community.  Center for Responsible Lending says that's a red flag that we're not doing something right to serve that community.  And then I think this stat blew my mind–there are 1.7 million black millennials right now that are mortgage-ready, qualified. They could own homes, and they're not–



CASEY CRAWFORD: So that blows my mind.  And that, to me, is an incredible place of hope.



CASEY CRAWFORD: That's the one where I go, OK, there is a path.  There is an opportunity here.  And so really what becomes incumbent upon us is to understand why these 1.7 million potential black buyers are not buying homes–understand why.  And if the issue is they're not aware that they're able to or they don't believe that it's a good long term financial interest– you know, Gary V. was really famous a few months ago.  He made headlines when he said, hey, homeownership's dead.  The dream of homeownership is dead.  And I look at some of these stats and go, man, if it is, should it be?

ADAM O'DANIEL: Right.  Right, because these stats would certainly indicate there is a correlation between wealth building and homeownership.  That's historical.  That's looking in the rearview mirror.  So maybe even Gary's a forward-looking guy.  He's a futurist.  So maybe that's his point.  But I really go, man, this 1.7 million number to me represents a huge opportunity and place of hope.

MONTELL WATSON: No, and that whole point with Gary V., I completely disagree. From the fact that as a black American, not being able to own homes–and you have the Fair Housing Act that has been put in place.  If you look back generationally, wealth passes through homeownership, right?


MONTELL WATSON: We've seen that over and over.  And if you have 1.7 million millennials, there is an opportunity, like Casey said, for us to go out and help educate, keep them aware, and understand and talk with them, right?  Like, why?  Why is it that you're in a place where you potentially could own a home, and what are we not doing right?  How can we step in and help you?  Because it is a generational thing.

CASEY CRAWFORD:  I think there's–to me, too, there's some numbers that don't go on a spreadsheet that are about empowerment and pride of homeownership– really moving from a renter to a landlord.  Having that sense of ownership of a piece of property does more for you than you can even put on a spreadsheet sometimes, and that homeowner culturally, we're missing some opportunity even to kind of speak into the black community of the virtues and benefits of being a homeowner.  And then actually what I hear from some of our loan officers I've spoke with is there's a desire to own a home, but there's just not a belief that it's possible.

ADAM O'DANIEL: We had a great conversation here in our office just last week with folks who are lending in the Hispanic community.  And they talked about the pride at the closing table when that family comes to buy their first home that their family's ever owned.  And it's not a husband and wife thing, it's a whole family.  Aunts and uncles show up for it.  Everybody comes because of the pride of owning a home in a community.


ADAM O'DANIEL: And that's something that, like you said, Casey, that number might not show up on a spreadsheet, but that's a very real, tangible, and economic benefit for people–that pride in home ownership.

MONTELL WATSON:  And I definitely think there is a piece culturally that's like, can I even own a home?  Is it something that I am able to do and that this is something that is for me?

As a black American, is it something that is available for me wherever I am from an income perspective?  A lot of times in the black community, it's not fully understanding credit, right?

I was lucky enough to be my first job in the financial industry–directly in the mortgage industry to have an understanding of credit.  But a lot of us in the black community–a story that I think I told Casey about this, I'm sitting in the barbershop and just hearing individuals talk about it and not have a full understanding of some of the smallest credit items that a lot of us take for granted–especially working in the mortgage industry.

ADAM O'DANIEL: So what would you say, Montell, to that person that you meet in your neighborhood, at the barbershop, just around town that has that perception and you have a chance maybe to speak some truth to that?  How would you address that?

MONTELL WATSON:  I think homeownership is life-changing.  It's been life-changing for me.  The very first home that we were approaching the actual scenario, I was like, I can't own that home.  I didn't even really look into it.  I was in the financial industry and I was like, ah.

Out first perspective was, oh, I don't know if I can own that home, right?  You know what I mean?  And then having the courage and having a wife to push me a little bit and say, no, let's go after this, and having the courage to step into it, it's like that home, and then to Casey's point, just like how you feel owning your own property, and taking the next steps of being able to have equity in your home, sell your home, pass the equity, build the equity continuously, or potentially even having the forefront of mind set to own another property, right?  I would tell you anyone that I talk to, go after it.  A lot of my friends today, they're still renting, and I tell you I talk to them all the time about that–stop paying rent.  Stop paying rent.  Build equity.  Build equity.  That's the powerful thing that you can do today.  So I would encourage anyone out there that is of those 1.7 million millennials, take the next step.  Take the next step.

ADAM O'DANIEL: That's great.

CASEY CRAWFORD: Even sitting here doing this right now, I just feel like, particularly you, Montell, we need, as an organization, as a company, to start telling these stories more regularly.  Stories move the needle.  People need stories and pictures of what it can look like to do something.

MONTELL WATSON:  Absolutely!

CASEY CRAWFORD: And, man, I also want to challenge Montell on the podcast live to put out a story a week of black homeownership–whether it's a loan office, a realtor, a family, something.  Because we got to make this a louder voice in our industry.  And I don't have a lot of solutions other than to start to make people aware that this is available.  This can be reality in your life.  You have friends in the business that are here to love you, serve you.  We have black credit decision makers, black loan officers.  Other companies do as well.  It's not exclusive to Movement.  That's a prevalent benefit.  That's a prevalent kind of pathway for folks to homeownership in our industry.  And they need to take advantage of it.  We need folks to take advantage of it.  We want to do our part to tell those stories and let people know, man, this is a good financial decision often.  And it's one, man, that it's within reach.  It's within a reach.

ADAM O'DANIEL: So I think, Casey, you're helping us kind of turn the corner there on now we have to start asking the question, what do we do about it? So we talked about the historical context for this–we're talking about an issue that's hundreds of years in the making with systemic racism in our country, in our financial institutions. There has been a lot of positive progress made through legislation and policy changes.

CASEY CRAWFORD:  Well, there's been a lot of legislation, but there hasn't been a lot of positive progress.

ADAM O'DANIEL:   Yeah, unfortunately–

CASEY CRAWFORD: That's the frustrating thing to me. That's the mind-blowing thing to me. And that's where you start to go, like, can you really legislate these things? I don't know.

We could do weeks of podcasts on legislation. But the fact is I don't think we can rest in legislation to solve some of these problems.  We have to start to go, hey, yeah, how do we do our part.  Do what we can do, not rely on Washington to legislate the answers to these things but actually step into this stuff and start letting our black friends and family members know, hey, this is a reality. This can become a reality for you and should be. In fact, it should be, you have friends here to help.

ADAM O'DANIEL:   Man, I love that.  Absolutely.  So what else?  You just talked to Casey about turning up the volume.  We've got to tell more stories.  We've got to be bolder about telling people about the benefits and educating them on the mortgage process.  At Movement, what else is happening right now. to address this issue?

MONTELL WATSON:  Ground level, right–having more loan officers–black loan officers that can go into the community and educate the community, speak to the community, and say, hey,this is something that is for you.  Here are different ways that you actually can own a home.

Here are down payment assistance programs, etcetera to help educate people in the community.  And partnering with our real estate partners as well to say, hey, let's get together around the black community to help flourish and continue to help people understand homeownership is a fantastic pathway to eliminate not only the homeownership gap, but also the net worth display that we have today.

ADAM O'DANIEL:   And, Casey, what about for you as a CEO and a leader in the mortgage space?  What's next for you on this?

CASEY CRAWFORD: So I think one of the things I'm really convicted about is that, man, even though I'm not black, this is still my issue. This is still my issue, because this is an American issue. This is a community issue.  This is an issue for our entire nation.  And all of us–whether black, white, Latino, Asian, whatever that may be, this is an issue we all need to press into in different ways.  I can't speak to the experience of a black family in America.  I can't speak to that.  But I can do my part, right?  And so, man, CEOs, loan officers, whomever– this issue is one we all need to collectively press into because it matters to the fabric of this country and this community to be strong.  And we got to make sure we're lifting every constituency up.

ADAM O'DANIEL:   Oh, man, OK.  That's challenging for me too to hear that same thing–I have a part in this too.  We all have our part to play.  I guess maybe wrapping and closing with kind of a final question–Casey, you're big on vision, you're big on setting big goals.  Movement started as this little entrepreneurial four-person company, and they said—

CASEY CRAWFORD: You're not going to ask me to solve this–We're not throwing that out. That's not ending this–We're gonna solve 4.6 million—

ADAM O'DANIEL:   We're going to be a movement of change in the mortgage industry, which is a bold thing to say when there's four people in an attic somewhere putting a company together.  Montell, I know you've bought into that same line So I'm just going to ask what, then, is your big dream, your big vision, goal that you want to live into over this next decade?

CASEY CRAWFORD: Yeah.  Listen, I think I think my heart, man, what I would love to see, what I know we would all love to see, is to start to see homeownership becoming more prevalent reality in black America.  That doesn't have to be led by Movement, owned by Movement, we're just going to be a part of that solution.  All I can commit to, man, is we're going to step in and do our part in that dream.  I hope 10 years, 20 years from now as my girls grow up, that this is kind of a history lesson where they look back and go, wow, at one point in time in American history, here's what the disparity between black and white homeownership looked like.  And, man, aren't we glad that our reality today doesn't look like that?  And that's my dream.

That's my hope.  That's what I think we all are pressing for is a future of America that looks much more United, where there's economic parity and opportunity for all.


ADAM O'DANIEL:  And, Montell, we're going to let you have the final word on this.  What's your heart and your dream to see over this next decade on this issue?

MONTELL WATSON:  My heart and my dream is just to kind of piggybacking off of that, man.  It's just for black Americans to look at home ownership as something that they feel in their heart that they can accomplish–and not only for this generation, but the future generations.

It's such an impactful thing for not just your kids but your kids' kids to be able to pass down generational wealth through homeownership.  So if we can do our part and challenge others out there to do their part, it's something that I definitely think we can solve.  I mean, you take a look at back in 2000, where we are today from then, you have 770,000 black homeowners.  That's a difference from 2000 to right now.

ADAM O'DANIEL:  Going backwards by almost a million.

MONTELL WATSON:  Going backwards by almost a million.  So it's possible, right?  So I mean, we have to step in and believe that it can be done and take the small steps to be able to reach that 4.6 million parity, right?  So just believing.

ADAM O'DANIEL: I love it.  Thank you both for being on the podcast today, terrific guests on a really important topic.  Thank you for listening.  And we'll see you again on the next episode of “The Mortgage Impact” podcast.  Thank you for listening to another episode of “The Mortgage Impact” podcast.

Jennifer Bates smiling
Author: Jennifer Bates

Jennifer is the Communications Manager at Movement Mortgage. When she's not taking her dog Maddux on a hike in the North Carolina mountains or to the dog park, she competes in powerlifting and strongman.