By Kathy Chouteau
In the tumultuous wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minnesota police in 2020, the Arlington Community Church in Kensington was spurred by the tragedy to offer reparations to the Black community in nearby neighborhoods.
The church soon launched the Black Wealth Builders Fund, a project that helps “our Black neighbors purchase homes,” said congregation member Susan Russell. The program offers zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 that Black, first-time homebuyers can use for “down payment assistance, closing costs or other expenses connected with home buying.” The loans are currently offered to people in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, with the potential to expand to Solano County.
“We were definitely influenced by George Floyd and his murder,” said Russell, sharing that the church first responded to it by holding an anti-racist discussion group to “think through the issues” and “ be sure that we were checking our own privilege and figuring out our own history in this area.” She said a feeling emerged from the congregation that the church should do something “more concrete” and “that would really make a difference.”
Helping local people in the Black community become first-time homeowners seemed like the right plan. The group started the fund in 2021 and initially raised approximately $330,000 for it from congregation members, other churches in Berkeley, Lafayette and Alameda and a large donation from the California Association of Realtors.
Russell said that “nobody was more surprised than us” that they raised so much off the ground, thinking they’d probably raise about $50,000. “We just kept our fingers crossed and we blew by that so fast.” She said that one of the reasons the fund has been so successful is the specificity of it. “I think that the idea that this was going to lead to a Black person actually being able to own a home when he or she may not have been able to, that was very appealing.” She said it’s not only concrete, but also very specific and local.
The Black Wealth Builders Fund is administered by RCF Connects (formerly the Richmond Community Foundation) as a donor-advised fund, said Russell. Applicants are qualified through Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, which she said offers a first-time homebuyers program “that all our applicants have completed.” Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services can be reached at (510) 237-6459.
“So what happens…is RCF Connects receives an application for this qualified person to apply for this loan and then they administer the loan,” said Russell. To date, they have provided 14 loans to 18 first-time Black homebuyers in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. “The loans are repaid only when the property is refinanced or sold, so that money can flow back into the fund and assist other buyers,” she said.
“We don’t consider this charity,” said Russell about the program, adding, “We do consider this reparations…We’re trying to make a difference in this historical sin of white supremacy and Black people not being able to buy homes, which is the leading reason why there’s a wealth gap.”
Russell said the first step to receiving a loan is “reaching out to Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services and signing up for their first-time homebuyers program. All of our loan recipients have completed that program.”
“We owe our Black neighbors,” said Russell. “People who are in a position to help, should help. And this is this is a way that they can do it.”
The Arlington Community Church is located at 52 Arlington Ave. in Kensington. The church is part of the United Church of Christ, has a long history of supporting social justice and operates onsite nursery schools. Learn more about the Black Wealth Builders Fund here.