HomeFree-USA's Collaborative Approach to Homeownership Counseling

December 6th, 2023

Gary Plummer, Senior Homeownership Advisor for HomeFree-USA, was so concerned about the state of Black homeownership in 2012, he left his lucrative work in the mortgage originations industry to join the nonprofit. “For the 24 years prior to taking my role at HomeFree-USA, I was in mortgage originations and had positions like loan officer, senior loan officer and sales manager,” he explains.

But, at the height of the mortgage crisis, he decided he had to make a change. “I saw large numbers of Black homeowners losing their properties,” he says. “So, I knew I had to help them understand and navigate the homeownership process to keep their homes in their families and create generational wealth.”

He was determined to use his business development skills to help mitigate a longstanding set of obstacles Black people face to homeownership. Since 2012, he’s helped HomeFree-USA develop nationwide partnerships with other organizations like BlueHub SUN that are committed to retaining and increasing homeownership.

“I watched Black people suffer the most wealth loss of any group in America during the mortgage crisis,” Plummer remembers. While they’ve recouped some of those losses, the homeownership situation for Black people hasn’t changed much in over 50 years.

New Data Shows a Persistent Black-White Homeownership Gap

The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) recently released its “2023 State of Housing in Black America” (SHIBA) report. It offered new research on the depth of the Black-White wealth gap relative to Black homeownership. Analyzing 2022 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data, NAREB found Black homeownership lingers at 45%, which is only slightly higher than it was two years after the 1968 Fair Housing Act was signed into law. This legislation prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, negotiation, or withholding of housing based on an individual's race, skin color, religious beliefs, gender, family situation, disability, or country of origin.

In 1970, the Black homeownership rate was 42%, and it remains the lowest among US racial groups today. National Association of Realtors (NAR) data from 2021 shows the homeownership rate for Whites was 72.7%, for Asian Americans it was 62.8%, and for Latinos it was 50.6%.

The gap between Blacks and Whites in homeownership is larger today than it was over half a century ago. In 1970, it was 23.8%; in 2022, it’s nearly 30% according to NAREB. To mitigate this racial homeownership gap, especially in the Black community, it’s imperative housing counselors and their organizational partners work to increase homeownership and prevent foreclosure there.

These barely changing homeownership statistics for Black Americans, when homeownership is the basis of wealth for most US families, underscores the need for organizations like HomeFree-USA.

About HomeFree-USA's 

Founded in 1994, the nonprofit housing counseling organization is working to be the premier bridge to financial strength and homeownership success for people of color and all communities across America. According to HomeFree-USA, this commitment is the reason why its founder and CEO, Marcia Griffin, won a 2023 Joseph R. Biden Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award.

A Black-founded and led nonprofit organization, HomeFree-USA is dedicated to empowering homeowners not just to buy their homes, but to keep them. Housing counselors who understand the community play a critical role in helping homeowners retain their most valuable asset, especially in the face of foreclosure.

The nonprofit provides housing counseling services and extensive financial literacy education to low-resource communities across the US but maintains a significant presence in the Black community from its Prince George’s County, Maryland offices.

Housing Counseling that Turns Renters in Sustainable Homeowners

HomeFree-USA housing counselors educate clients unfamiliar with the complexities of homeownership. “Many of our clients are lifelong renters who don’t have the benefit of homeownership education passed down to them from previous generations,” says Plummer. “They often lack access to resources and financial services that provide financial literacy.”

“That’s why we call our housing counselors ‘angels,’ because we look at our work as ministry,” Plummer, the son of a pastor, says. HomeFree-USA’s counselors assume the demanding task of reshaping their clients’ perspectives, so they learn to create generational wealth through homeownership. This transformation centers on developing financial awareness, including of the costs of some mortgage products, like expensive predatory mortgages, which Plummer says “are designed to cost homeowners their homes.”

So, HomeFree-USA teaches them how to build assets like savings, budgeting fundamentals and creditworthiness. That allows their clients to get conventional mortgages at lower interest rates that don’t become too costly to manage.

But it goes beyond getting a mortgage, he says. “It also requires they understand the true costs of homeownership, which are their responsibility, since they no longer have a landlord to call to fix things.”

Plummer also says, “Our clients work with us long after they buy their homes, so they can learn the financial skills necessary to keep their homes,” he says.

Navigating Foreclosure Requires Skilled Housing Counselors

Often, homeowners don’t come to HomeFree-USA until they’re facing foreclosure, when a housing counselor’s expertise becomes invaluable. Plummer emphasizes choosing a housing counselor with extensive knowledge of and experience with the foreclosure process.

This includes familiarity with the guidelines, terminology and, crucially, the options available to homeowners to prevent foreclosure. “They also must be expert negotiators to deal with mortgage servicers, who often aren’t empathetic to homeowner needs in this situation,” he says.

“An effective housing counselor won’t just be an order taker who fills out the paperwork,” he adds. “They not only understand the steps to the foreclosure prevention process, but they also are strategic and thoughtful with their advice throughout the process,” he explains.

To do that, they must be capable of anticipating the perspectives and requirements of mortgage underwriters and investors who back your mortgage. That’s why Plummer suggests homeowners find housing counselors with substantial experience with the mortgage industry. “The ones who have that background understand both the mortgage servicer and investor guidelines you’ll confront trying to prevent foreclosure, and that’s critical,” he says.

Since every homeowner’s situation is different, Plummer says HomeFree-USA collaborates with multiple organizations in the states it serves to help its clients. “A client might be in a situation that requires specialized help only another organization can offer,” he asserts.

The HomeFree-USA and BlueHub SUN Partnership

A significant aspect of HomeFree-USA's strategy in foreclosure avoidance involves their alliance with BlueHub SUN. This partnership is fundamental to their approach to providing comprehensive solutions to homeowners facing foreclosure. Plummer appreciates BlueHub SUN’s innovative foreclosure prevention mortgage products, which keep his clients in their homes, and home equity in communities.

“I send our clients to BlueHub SUN when I’ve attempted every negotiation strategy, run the numbers and find SUN is my client’s only option,” he explains. “They’ll get a loan they can afford and keep their home in their family,” says Plummer, who believes SUN is a fantastic program.

Plummer says the synergy between HomeFree-USA and BlueHub SUN means their combined efforts have not only prevented foreclosures. But they’ve also restored homeowners' faith in the possibility of financial recovery and stability.

Plummer notes that every home saved contributes to both organizations’ broader goal of community development and preventing neighborhood decline. This aspect of the work is vital in communities of color where foreclosure rates have been higher historically.

“More homeowners need BlueHub SUN,” Plummer says.

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