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CEO Chris Coleman reflects on an unprecedented year and the path forward

Chris Coleman
Posted by Chris Coleman on 4:15 PM on August 12, 2020

As we turn the corner to start a new fiscal year at Twin Cities Habitat, I find it hard to remember what things were like before the pandemic began and the movement for Black Lives was reinvigorated following the police killing of George Floyd.

I’m reminded that, before COVID-19 struck, Twin Cities Habitat was having our best year ever. In the first nine months of the fiscal year, 89 families became homeowners for the first time. And even in the face of multiple crises, another 14 Habitat homebuyers closed on their homes from April through June. That means, for the second time in our history, Twin Cities Habitat partnered with over 100 homebuyers in a single fiscal year.

Reaching this important milestone of 100+ homebuyers each year has been our top priority over the last four years of our Multiplying the Impact campaign. You—our supporters—saw our region’s mounting affordable housing crisis. You rose to the challenge, gave generously, and rallied your networks around Habitat.

volunteer standing outdoors in a light blue shirt, tan overalls, blue baseball cap and a black mask, wearing ear protection while using a power saw.Habitat volunteer working on site following COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing a mask.

Thank you for all the ways you’ve expanded access to homeownership in the Twin Cities.

At Home Fund

The health and economic crises brought about by COVID-19 have left so many families with lost incomes and grim outlooks.

To get through this unprecedented time together, we launched the At Home Fund. Immediately, you stepped up again to support your neighbors. Your gifts have already been put to work on our two goals:

  • Protect Homeowners: More than 200 Habitat homeowners have called us asking for mortgage relief. Thanks to your gifts, they’re able to defer their mortgage payments while their incomes are lost or reduced.
  • Multiply Homeownership: While many of us can comfortably ‘shelter at home,’ far too many families lack the stability and safety of a home they own. Your support expands homeownership access when it’s needed most.

Juanita, sitting at her home office and smiling.For 25 years, Juanita's Habitat home has been a safe harbor for her family. Today, it's where she's weathering crises brought about by COVID-19. Pictured above is Juanita at her new home office. Read more about Juanita and the essential workers in her family. 

Twin Cities Habitat’s Next Steps on Racial Equity

But in the face of these twin pandemics—COVID-19 and systemic racism—there is so much more work to do.

This is clear: George Floyd’s killing is a symptom of the persistent institutional and systemic racism embedded in our way of life in Minnesota.

Our state has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation and nearly all of them can be tied back to discriminatory housing practices used throughout the 20th century.

We must reckon with the wrongs of the past and present. We must acknowledge the racism in all our systems—health, economic, criminal justice, housing, and education systems—and we must actively work to undo it.

A black and white photo of the Credjafawn co-op, on the left in front of the fruits are a man and woman selecting produce. On the right, an employee shows something to a woman with a basket.
The Credjafawn Co-op Store, pictured above, was a grocery store in the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. Rondo was a thriving Black neighborhood until the construction of I-94 tore the heart out of it. Read about Rondo and I-94 here. Photo used with permission from the Minnesota Historical Society.

At Habitat we’ve been working hard to play a part in narrowing Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation racial gap in homeownership. But there is so much work to be done to build the region we want to see.

At Twin Cities Habitat, we resolve to:

  • Bring to light the deep-seated systemic racism in housing policies
  • Work to close the homeownership gap between White and Black families
  • Advance racial equity in all aspects of the organization

I invite the entire Habitat community to join our Board, staff, and leadership for the journey. Please read on for highlights and know that you’ll continue to hear from us on how you can help Habitat build a community where everyone can thrive.

Learn from History: Read our Race & Housing Blog Series

Minnesota’s racial disparities in housing didn’t happen by accident. Racist policies created them, like racial covenants, redlining, interstate construction, and many more. Read about these topics and more on our Race & Housing blog series.

Amplify the Message: Join the Women of Habitat Virtual Event

Our signature Women of Habitat event will be virtual this year and the topic will center on racial equity in housing. The event will be in October and you can sign up here to get an email once we've set a date. When you see details, please invite your friends and colleagues to join the event.

Commit to the Work and Hold us Accountable

We cannot call for equity outside Habitat without also looking inward. Our team will vigorously examine our policies and practices to better meet the needs of the African American community, including clients, supporters, staff, and community partners. If you have feedback on any of our practices, please reach out to us.

Our staff and Board have been working for several years to improve our cultural competency and infuse racial equity into every part of our work. We are currently recruiting a Director of Equity and Inclusion to lead this work in earnest. If you know someone who should apply, please send them our way.

There aren’t quick fixes and simple solutions. As an organization, we must recommit to the long fight for justice. As a Habitat supporter, you are part of that fight to advance equity in our community and across the country.

race and housing resource center

Tags: Penned by Leadership, 2020

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