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MacKenzie Scott Donates $13.5M To Twin Cities Habitat For Humanity 

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott awarded $13.5 million for the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, a "game-changer" that the organization says will help it achieve its goal of advancing racial equity in housing.

The donation is more than what the group fundraises from all donors combined in one year, a spokeswoman said, and it's a large portion of its annual operating budget of $33 million.

"This transformational gift is a game-changer for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity's efforts to advance Black homeownership and turn the tide on Minnesota's racial disparities," said Chris Coleman, president and CEO, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. "Philanthropic support is critical to our organization's innovation and growth, as we work with the community to build a more vibrant, equitable region."

The nonprofit adopted a strategic plan last December to create, preserve and promote affordable homeownership and advance racial equity in housing. The gift will help expand homeownership opportunities toward 125-150 closings per year, an increase from 100 right now, and boost home production "through large-scale developments and converting rental properties to homeownership."

Black families own homes at one-third the rate as white families, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: Just 25% of Black households own their homes compared to 77% of white households, and that number has declined since 1950.

Home Ownership Gap Graph
(credit: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

That gap in the Twin Cities is the worst in the nation, according to a report from the Urban Institute, which found the problem has only worsened.

"This has been around for decades, and has persisted despite a lot of efforts to try to address it," said Edward Goetz, director for the Center of Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and an expert on race and poverty impact housing policy. "Black properties are appraised differently. They are funded and financed differently. And so we have to, really to address the full wealth gap, we have to do more than simply close the homeownership gap."

Home prices continue to rise, and we also don't have enough them. The Twin Cities is also facing one of the worst housing shortages in the nation.

Sarah Berke, program officer at the Family Housing Fund, said the region needs to build an additional 3,500 homes each year to meet the projected housing need here, for both rental and ownership. To bridge gaps for Black communities, that would mean supporting and creating 60,000 new Black homeowners, she noted.

"We'll keep seeing cost burdens without meeting our housing supply goals," Berke said. "Putting off our response to solve our ongoing housing crisis absolutely exacerbates the problem of racial wealth disparities and socioeconomic disparities in our region."

David McGee is executive director of the nonprofit Build Wealth MN, which allows qualifying families to participate in long-term financial literacy and education programs. He said the organization tries to educate Black families on policies and systems -- from redlining to predatory lending -- and helps them navigate financial decisions.

"Most of the families that come to our program and earning $24,000 less than their skill sets and their education says, and so now we're talking an affordability gap for persons not really earning a lot and getting the property that meets the needs of their family sometimes becomes a major barrier," McGee said. "Inventory right now is going to be a major challenge, so kudos to Habitat."

Scott, the former wife of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, also gave grants to other Minnesota organizations: the Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities, Planned Parenthood North Central States, White Earth Nation Boys & Girls Clubs, Red Lake Nation Boys & Girls Club and United States of Care, according to a blog post.

She said she is centering her philanthropic work on equity.

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