I, like many others, listened to the words of Kimberly Jones the other week. It was chilling to hear her say a powerful truth: “So when they say ‘why do you burn down your own neighborhood?’ It’s not ours. We don’t own anything. We don’t own anything.”
At Landed, we help educators navigate their first major transition to ownership — we help them buy homes, often their first home. But to do so is to be faced with a consistent fact: the communities we help our educators stay rooted in are owned by white people like me. It is well documented that black homeownership has not increased since the Civil Rights Act was passed. What is less documented, but widely understood, is how much worse this situation is in our wealthiest cities.
The first thing that you notice working at Landed is that almost all educators struggle to save enough money for a conforming down payment without help from wealthy parents. Between 50% and 90% of first-time buyers in the Bay Area require parental gifts to buy their first home. If you know anything about the history of racial inequities in this country you’ll know that black and white educators do not have an equal probability of having wealthy parents and grandparents. If you’re black or brown, getting to any size down payment is already a monumental challenge.
In 2018, the Urban Institute published a report mapping the Black Homeownership Gap. Here are the findings I found most shocking:
- There is not a single city in the United States that has closed the gap between white and black homeownership rates.
- There are only a few counties in the entire country where the black homeownership rate exceeds the white homeownership rate, but those counties have something in common: they have less than 250 total black households.
- Minneapolis, MN, the recent epicenter of the current conversation about police brutality has the widest homeownership gap in the entire country. Approximately 74.8% of white families own homes, but only 24.8% of black families own homes.
In the San Francisco metropolitan area, where Landed is based, only 21.7% of black households own homes compared to approximately 50% of white households. Note that this says nothing about the value of the homes that are bought by white families vs black families, where there is an obvious and well-documented legacy of redlining and value destruction.
On this last point, I even have an anecdote to share: One of my first jobs at Landed was to read through the homeowners association (HOA) disclosures of homes that our educators were purchasing to make sure that there weren’t large red-flags that would result in the homes being poor long-term investments. I will never forget reading the HOA disclosures for a development in Hayward, California, that specifically stipulated that the homes could only be resold to members of the Caucasian race. This wasn’t 1910, this wasn’t 1960, this was 2018. There was, of course, a coversheet on the entire HOA package stating the discriminatory references were not enforceable, but the fact that the language survives was incredulous. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be faced with these kind of consistent reminders that people with power view you as lesser-than, and that communities like this so obviously had the power of the entire legal system to defend and enforce this kind of racism in a not so distance past.
Education is at the center
Landed also works across another trend that impacts inequity: education. The probability that a child in the US born from parents in the lowest 20% by income has only a 7.5% chance of generating a top 20% income over their lifetime. This is not inevitable. Our neighbors to the north (Canada) have achieved twice the income mobility. Having lived in both countries, my hypothesis is a lot of this has something to do with the way that we fund our schools and pay our educators in the US.
When I lived in Palo Alto, CA, it was unfathomable to me that educators in East Palo Alto (a community primarily black and brown) were paid almost half the salaries of educators in Palo Alto (a community almost exclusively white and Asian that is walking distance away). Given that it was illegal for black families to own homes in these now wealthy areas with better education, and that buying into these areas largely requires financial assistance from parents who benefited from rising housing prices, how is anyone surprised that inequalities persist generation after generation?
Start with yourself
Ijeoma Oluo, bestselling author of So You Want To Talk About Race, recently shared: "The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
We don’t have to look outside of Landed to understand the challenge of being black in America. We are a startup, one of the most ‘meritocratic’ wealth creation vehicles of the modern age. And yet, only 1% of start-up founders are black. Given this, it is easy to pat ourselves on the back and say that by being a start-up with a black founder (my co-founder Alex is black and shared his reflections earlier this month), or, being a start-up that works to improve access to homeownership in order to improve public education quality, we are doing more than our fair share.
But are we?
This winter I wrote to our team after finishing “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. I wrote that everyone wants to be the hero in their own story. It’s hard to admit that much of the privilege I enjoy today is because my ancestors exploited Aboriginals and Africans, created racist doctrine to justify their actions and then created racist institutions to legally protect the wealth they had stolen. It’s even harder to admit that this exploitation is not history, and that I continue to be the beneficiary of racist institutions. Racism does not need to be intentional and premeditated to be worthy of our outrage. It is the racism that hides behind good intentions that is so much more pernicious.
The word ‘racist’ is weaponized to mean a monster beyond reproach — a person who intentionally commits heinous acts because of their hatred of black people. But this bar is far too high. The fact that this has become our default definition of ‘racist’ makes it impossible for white people to engage in conversations about their racism. And without conversation there can be no progress.
As a white CEO of a growing company, this feels like an action I can take. On top of inclusive hiring practices, diverse board representation, diverse leadership, I can make it easier for teammates to talk about racism and work towards an anti-racist culture. I can do that by admitting that I have been complicit in racism and will continue to do so.
I am the beneficiary of racist institutions, controlled by white people like me, that institutionalize acts of racism, discrimination and prejudice. I am not as open to feedback about my racism because I am terrified of being labeled a racist; I am terrified of not being the hero. And while I strongly believe that none of my racism is intentional, what the hell difference does that make to black America? As Rachel Cargle eloquently put it, “White feelings should never be held in higher regard than black lives."
So, now what?
This moment has served as a reminder of a few things our team at Landed has already done to foster community:
- Staying true to our purpose to upholding those who uphold us so we can improve educational outcomes in vulnerable populations and increase wealth amongst underrepresented communities.
- Encouraging our staff to volunteer and support their local communities, giving them 5 days off to do so in addition to normal allowances for paid time off.
- Track employee race data (in addition to gender, socioeconomic, educational diversity data) in an effort to hold ourselves accountable to increasing our share of black, brown, first generation, and non-binary employees.
- Bring in experts to train our team, including myself, in navigating our mindsets, behaviors, and biases as we navigate these conversations.
We will also be pushing ourselves to do the following now and in the future:
- Incorporating customer racial, socioeconomic, and other demographic data in our analyses in an effort to increase the share of customers we serve from diverse backgrounds, including and especially customers who identify as black.
- Launch an internal committee to ensure our actions to stand for black lives persists not just in this moment, but for the long-haul.
Black lives matter. Let’s get to work, and not let up.