Catapult Greater Pittsburgh seeks to help Black first-time homebuyers with new fund | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Catapult Greater Pittsburgh seeks to help Black first-time homebuyers with new fund

For many, homeownership is a milestone that is desired, but not achievable. Many barriers exist to prevent people from buying their first home, but a new program through Catapult Greater Pittsburgh seeks to help combat those issues, especially financial barriers that have held back Pittsburgh's Black community.

The “Next Steps Fund” was launched to support efforts to “increase equity in homeownership opportunities for Black families,” according to a press release. The program seeks to achieve this by helping Black families cover closing costs and down payments needed for buying a home.

“Having our own closing assistance fund has been on our 'wish list' for the past several years,” said Tammy Thompson, Executive Director of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, formerly Circles of Greater Pittsburgh. “As we built our organization’s homeownership program, D.O.O.R (Development Ownership Opportunities for Residents), we saw the frequency with which our participants either believed that they could never save enough money to cover closing costs or cleaned out retirement funds or emergency savings to close. We knew that we wanted to offer support.”

Initially, finding funding for the project was difficult, until a group of Pittsburgh women organized themselves to change that. After studying the racial disparities in Pittsburgh, Jennifer McDowell, Catherine Raphael, Ebe Emmons, Georgia Berner, Nancy Bernstein, and Diane Petronko decided it was time to do something to change their communities.

Included in their studies was reading the city’s report on Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race, followed by interviewing community leaders and searching for the best way to address systemic racism in Pittsburgh. Eventually, the group found their way to Thompson, who served as a guide. However, it wasn’t until McDowell realized she’d be able to sell her house at a profit — something that is more common for white families compared to Black families — that the group came to focus their efforts on housing.

“Catapult’s existing homeownership program offered an opportunity to begin to help break down and eliminate systems that have propagated widespread economic disparities for Black families,” said McDowell.

All of their research and studying yielded two primary points of consideration:
  1. Financial institutions reject mortgage applications for Black prospective homebuyers 2.5 times that of white homebuyers. And from July 2019 to July 2020, more than 80% of homeowners in Pittsburgh were white.
  2. In 2015, Pittsburgh's Affordable Housing Task Force published its findings and recommendations. The task force identified that there is a shortage of 17,241 affordable housing units for those earning 50% of the area median income (for a family of four, this is $35,600). To fill the gap, the task force advocated the creation of a Housing Opportunity Fund, the preservation of already affordable units and the implementation of inclusionary housing zones that require a portion of new housing units to be affordable.
After coming to these realizations, the women began to raise funds to go directly toward funding closing costs and down payments for homeowners. Catapult was awarded $200,000 from Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund ($150,000 of which will go directly toward Black homebuyers), but the group is still very interested in reaching out to potential donors to raise funds going forward.

If you’re interested in receiving “Next Steps Fund” assistance, the criteria is as follows:
  • Must be purchasing a home within Allegheny County
  • Cannot earn more than 115% Area Media Income (AMI)
  • Must be a first-time homebuyer
  • Owner Occupant (Buyer must be a full-time resident of the property)
  • Must participate and earn a First Time Homebuyer Certificate in the Catapult Greater Pittsburgh D.O.O.R program.
  • Buyer must contribute no less than 1% of total purchase price to the transaction.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Catapult website.