Why Black Homeownership Matters

Ene Underwood
5 min readFeb 28, 2022

It was not that long ago that being Black meant you could not buy a home in this province.

We often focus on the dizzying real estate prices as the main barrier to families entering the housing market, but GTA residents in racialized communities have historically experienced far more roadblocks to homeownership. In 1951, a restrictive covenant signed by a group of predominantly White homeowners in an Ontario neighbourhood stated that subject land could not be transferred under any means “by any person wholly or partly of negro.” This was even despite the fact that racially discriminatory covenants had been ruled illegal the year before. If we were to take this and put it into real perspectives that apply right now: grandparents and great-grandparents of Black Canadians today could not legally buy a home.

Denham Jolly, a highly successful Jamaican-Canadian businessperson, community leader and philanthropist, writes in his autobiography, In the Black, of his experience coming to Canada in the 1950s on a Commonwealth Scholarship. After completing degrees from three Canadian universities, he discovered that as a Black man, he was prohibited from gaining a visa to live and work in Canada. When eventually he was able to immigrate to Canada, he followed his father’s advice to “always own property” but recounts repeated experiences of racism in obtaining a mortgage and buying a home. Ultimately, his first home purchase was made possible by having a White friend accompany him while he posed as the Black renovator for the White purchaser.

Fast forward to today and while these overt barriers are no longer in place — Black Canadians (together with Indigenous peoples) live with another significant barrier to homeownership: incomes. While most racialized Canadians tend to catch up and earn as much as White Canadians by the third generation (with Korean, Japanese and Chinese immigrants surpassing White incomes), Black Canadians do not. Instead, first generation Black Canadians start out 32% behind and are still 26% less than average White incomes by the third generation — the lowest of any immigrant group.

Let all this sit for a moment.

Think about the disproportionate advantage generations of White residents have had because their ancestors were able to own a home, transferring the wealth they were enabled to build, down from one generation to the next. Take a look at the 2016 census, for example, where RBC found that the homeownership rate among the Black population was the lowest of any visible minority group, sitting at 38% (the national average was nearly 70%.) During the pandemic, we witnessed a surge in real estate prices — a historical increase in wealth for homeowners — and yet racialized communities were left behind. The consequence we see is an ever-widening wealth gap, but perhaps more importantly, a missed opportunity: as RBC pointed out, if visible minorities — including Black Canadians — owned homes at a similar rate to White Canadians, their collective net wealth would be $100B higher today.

Systemic racism has excluded Black Canadians from homeownership for decades, denying the Black community from experiencing the numerous benefits of owning a home, including building up savings, increased health and wellness and better childhood education. As University of Toronto Prof. David Hulchanski found in his ground-breaking work on Toronto neighbourhoods, in the GTA’s high-income neighbourhoods where a majority of people own their homes, 73% of the residents are White. Meanwhile, in the GTA’s low-income communities where a majority of people rent, residents are 69% racialized.

If we are serious about changing course, it is fundamental to understand that this is not a conversation about equality, but rather equity. Equality is what we have, a free market system where those who can, are able to own. Equity means recognizing there are barriers preventing marginalized communities from owning a home and that governments, not-for-profits, community organizations must provide the resources to help create the opportunity so they can.

family hugging each other

Enter the BlackNorth Initiative Homeownership Bridge Program.

Under the leadership of the BlackNorth Initiative, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity GTA and empowered by Dream Legacy Foundation, this program will create affordable homeownership opportunities for working, lower-income Black families. The families must still qualify for a mortgage, albeit for a smaller amount than would be possible without the program. If and when the home gets sold, part of the equity goes to the family as it continues its journey in homeownership, and part is returned to the program so the cycle can continue with another family.

The impact this will have in strengthening Black communities cannot be underscored enough. In our work at Habitat for Humanity GTA, when people go from renting (often in overcrowded, unsafe and unaffordable living conditions) to owning their own Habitat home, they consistently report improvements in health, children’s educational results, household incomes, and overall family well-being. Wes Hall, founder and Chair of the BlackNorth Initiative, and today one of Canada’s most decorated business leaders, consistently cites his personal experience of buying and then leveraging his home as having been instrumental in enabling him to build his very successful Kingsbridge Advisors.

Beyond the individual impact, raising homeownership levels builds collective wealth and opportunity across entire communities. Isaac Olowolafe, a highly respected entrepreneur and developer and also Chair of BlackNorth Initiative’s Housing Committee, has commented, “What’s also exciting here is that we will see the Program have a major impact on generations of families in the present and the future, while at the same time, there will be an economic benefit to cities, provinces and the whole country.”

The BlackNorth Initiative aims to create 200 new Black homeowners within the GTA over the next five years — a goal that may sound modest, but will require roughly $100 million to deliver.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has announced a $10 million commitment specifically earmarked for this program. The program will also draw on a portion of the $20 million in funding that CMHC previously committed through Habitat for Humanity Canada for Black homeownership across Canada. Peel Region has made a $2.5 million commitment. First mortgages of homeowners in the program will add another $40 to $50 million. A number of for-profit developers have stepped up and committed to sell units to the program at a loss.

A promising start. More will be needed.

The effects of decades of bigotry and systemic racism that have prevented Black Canadians and the Black community at large from reaping the benefits of homeownership will take time to reverse — but the BlackNorth Initiative Homeownership Bridge Program is a tangible way to do just that.

To learn more about or donate to the BlackNorth Homeownership Bridge Program, visit the BlackNorth Initiative website, https://blacknorth.ca/.



Ene Underwood

Ene is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity GTA, which helps working families build strength, stability and self-reliance through affordable homeownership.