Editor's Note: Black Iowa News is interviewing Black Iowans across the state about their communities: the good, the bad, the real. I’ll pose similar questions to Black residents and leaders to uncover the triumphs and challenges of life in a state where Blacks comprise 4% of the state's population. This is the latest installment of an ongoing interview series. Know someone who would make for a great interview? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bridgett Robinson — Des Moines
Bridgett Robinson, diversity and inclusion mortgage loan originator and outreach coordinator at Neighborhood Finance Corporation. Photo courtesy of Robinson.
Birthplace: Des Moines, Iowa.
Family: A son, 11.
Occupation: Diversity and inclusion mortgage loan originator and outreach coordinator at Neighborhood Finance Corporation (NFC).
Education: Robinson graduated in 2008 with a degree in mass communications from Grand View University.
Community service: Board member at Skate DSM.
The Black homeownership rate has fallen to 43%, compared to 72% for whites, according a 2021 report from the National Association of Realtors. The white homeownership rate in Iowa is 76%, compared to 23% for Blacks, according to the report. That's where Diversity and Inclusion Mortgage Loan Originator and Outreach Coordinator Bridgett Robinson comes in through her work at Neighborhood Finance Corporation. She works with Des Moines' communities of color, helping people understand home ownership and equity is for all.
Black Iowa News: You said you like to volunteer. Where did your volunteerism come from?
Bridgett Robinson: “To be honest, it was something that bit me when I was in high school. I just always wanted to be involved with my community, and the best way I knew how was through volunteerism. I'm always the type of person who needs to do more than one thing. I think I just need that interaction with community. I feel like I have to be doing something all the time. So I think that's where it came from.”
Black Iowa News: How would you characterize the Des Moines community?
Bridgett Robinson: “The Des Moines community I would characterize as a melting pot. You never know who you're going to run into, what you're going to experience and how you're going to experience it because Des Moines has come a long way from when I was doing volunteer work. There's a lot more younger folks involved, or a lot younger folks that are actually speaking their opinions and speaking up against things that aren't right. So I think Des Moines is moving in the right direction in certain aspects as far as being more open, being more welcoming, being a place where people actually want to live and be, rather than just visit. So Des Moines itself is dynamic in many different ways. It can look one way one day, and then look another the other day. So it's kind of a surprise, you never know what you're going to expect.”
Black Iowa News: You mentioned diversity and inclusion in your title. When you think of those words, how does it fit Des Moines? Do you feel like Des Moines is an inclusive place to be?
Bridgett Robinson: “I think Des Moines is on its way to being inclusive. I can't say that we're entirely inclusive. I can't say that any place is entirely inclusive, but it's exciting to see that they're actually trying to make a move in the right direction. I'm just hopeful that it's not something that is being a box that's being checked. Something that's routine — everybody's doing it — so we've got to jump onto it. I feel like in order for Des Moines to actually make an impact, I think they need to dive deeper and then make those community connections in order to be inclusive and be diverse and create equitable practices within anything that they do. They’ve got a long way to go, but I think they're moving in the right direction, and I think they're making some intentional connections, especially with folks like me, putting us in roles like this, to kind of spread the word and get people involved.”
Black Iowa News: Explain a bit about Neighborhood Finance Corp.
Bridgett Robinson: “We have a multitude of unique lending programs, especially for those folks who already own a home.
We're into the revitalization piece, uplifting our communities, rebuilding our communities, making sure that any deferred maintenance issues can be taken care of for home homeowners by engaging in one of these loans.
Or we do full improvement loans, we do purchase loans, and the beauty of our business and that what's different from other lenders is that again, we go into that home renovation, home improvement piece. Not a lot of lenders will give out loans for that.
And then in addition to that, we give forgivable amounts of that money to be granted out.
So there's a portion of the amount that you have for your total renovations that can be forgiven over the course of five years as long as you stay in the house. So we have that unique edge to offering these products are not only affordable, but they're flexible and they make sense. And then again, sustainability all of our programs for the forgivable amounts, it’s being recycled year after year for potential homeowners or for potential buyers for that home. So, if I move out of my home and there's a subsidy leftover that next homebuyer can take advantage of that money. That's free money that's coming through the subsidy. So again, we've got a lot of different angles, a lot of different layers that go into our programs, but there's a lot of money that's on the table for forgivable and that makes sense for folks to build equity in the home faster. A lot faster than on traditional fixed rate mortgage or balloon or any of that nature. So, we're trying to again, just be in the community and meet folks where they're at because, you know, in reality we're going to tell you: 'OK, well it looks like you've got too much debt-to-income ratio. Let's just rethink that.' Not that we're never going to lend to you, but you're just not ready now.
And then we set them up with the referral system if they need to work on credit or if they need to work on savings, things of that nature, and then they ultimately come back to us and they are able to get that loan.
So again, we look at the situation holistically. When it comes to a borrower, we don't just look at the credit and the savings, we want to make sure that holistically you've got the financial means and the ability to repay and you're comfortable with it, first of all.”
Black Iowa News. Why are you doing the work that you’re doing? What led you to the path?
Bridgett Robinson: “I felt like this was a good fit for me to be in this space to teach about equity and diversity and inclusion. To introduce the idea of having a Black (loan originator) in a Des Moines nonprofit that has been around for 30 years, it's a game changer to actually have somebody who experiences this stuff and is listening to the community.
And I felt like, this is my chance to do something for our community and build on the affordable housing aspect, too, and revitalization. I knew that this was my spot.”
Black Iowa News: How do you implement that?
Bridgett Robinson: “One of the things right out the gate when I started was just reintroducing NFC and introducing myself. Not a lot of people know about NFC just because we're kind of a word of mouth. Those folks that have used our services are the only ones that really know about us. And so, NFC wasn't something that you see plastered on a billboard.
More specifically, what I've been doing is to make sure I'm getting into spaces, especially in the Black community or communities of color, because getting in those spaces that you normally don't see lenders or mortgage businesses in and kind of starting those conversations.
What's your pain spots? What do you want to see from a lender? What do you want to see when it comes to a mortgage payment? What does the community actually need? What I've been doing is just connecting in those intentional spots in the Black community, saying: 'Hey, we're here to help you. What can we do? What are you hearing and what do you need from us?' I don't think they've had somebody like us, a lender come in and say: Where are we lacking? What can we do better? I just want to make those intentional connections."
Black Iowa News: When you go out into the community and you’re explaining what you do, do you put people into programs?
Bridgett Robinson: “We have what's called a mortgage navigator who will explain what’s happening . . . Depending on what they need to work on, say if it's credit or anything financial, we'll send them over to Evelyn K. Davis Financial Empowerment Center or if it's something as far as homebuyer education, we'll send them to Home Inc. Once they're done with them, they'll come back to us. We can look at their file again and start an application and then proceed.
We try really hard to just make those direct referrals. We’re trying to make those intentional connections.
So I think that is the most important part of my job, is just being able to make that connection so they feel like there's somebody in the community that isn't throwing a phone number or website at them.”
Black Iowa News: Talk a little bit about the importance of home ownership and how it relates to Black wealth building.
Bridgett Robinson: “Generational wealth in the Black community is almost nonexistent. Just being able to have a roof over your head that’s stable, a place for your family, family that can live with you, if necessary, just having that safe zone, that safe space is the most important thing about owning a home. Not having to worry about getting kicked out in 30 days because they’re selling the property, or they’re raising the rent on you. It’s that stability and peace knowing that you have a stable structure that your family can live in for possibly generations to come. If you’re spending like $1,300 a month on some rent, you might as well be investing in a house.
There’s a lot of affordable houses in our neighborhood, especially for neighborhoods that are available that folks can take advantage of and fix up how they want to. And with programs like NFC, they have the opportunity.
So if I go and buy a house, I automatically get up to $10,000 in home improvement money just from buying the house with NFC through their program. So, ‘Oh, I hate the carpet in here,’ that’s something that can be fixed with an NFC loan, using that $10,000 . . . The importance is that once you sell that house, you have equity in that house. That’s more money to go towards another house or vacation of whatever you end up using that money for."
Black Iowa News: Describe the programs.
Bridgett Robinson: “So one of the NFC programs is called the Journey to Homeownership program specifically for the Black or African American community. We address barriers as it pertains to Black homeownership that is beyond credit, beyond savings. Sometimes it's (answering questions about) how long do I have to be in my job in order to get a loan? Or if I have (something in my) background would that disqualify me from getting a loan? There's also a smaller group of us that are doing DEI first-time homebuyer classes: What goes into a mortgage payment, what are lenders looking for as far as documentation, what are they going to ask you and how to handle that situation.
I know there's a lot of distress with lenders, a lot of distress with banks, which is understandable. I don't blame anybody at all for that.
And so, breaking down the terminology with those classes and kind of giving them the insight and the basic layman terms of what this means when you’re engaging in a mortgage. That’s what we’re trying to cover in the Journey to Homeownership classes and the DEI classes. Renters don’t know what a fixed rate is, what’s conventional and what’s FHA. We break that down in the classes I teach. It’s just starting with the basics. It’s giving them the knowledge that maybe otherwise they’d be afraid to ask through a lender. So that’s usually how I like to start is what do you want to know about homeownership?"
Source: Canva Pro
Black Iowa News: What area does NFC operate in?
Bridgett Robinson: “We’re in the greater Des Moines area.”
Black Iowa News: What else do people need to know about your work?
Bridgett Robinson: “As far as homeownership goes, and Black homeownership, connect with organizations in Des Moines to get help. It doesn't hurt to ask questions at all if you don't know where to go. There's a lot of resources out there. I want our Des Moines residents to have the opportunity to learn about (the programs before) it's too late and the funding is gone. I want to be sure that they're sitting at the table when those funds are announced through the city, through the county so they can also take advantage because there's a lot of imbalance in how the money is distributed and how it's used, and I'd like to see more of our Black/African American community take advantage of those programs as well.”
Black Iowa News: What else do people need to know about NFC?
Bridgett Robinson: “One of the misconceptions about NFC is that we are the lender of last resort or that were a lender for like emergency repairs, but we're just typically like any other lender. We have to go by a certain credit score and certain amount of income . . . Just be transparent with a lender. Make sure that you have a good match between you and your lender or realtor . . .
Homeownership is such a blessing. It's never too late.
I've got 72-year olds who are still out there buying houses and 50-year olds out there buying houses, and it's just never too late. And again, just don't give up. You know, it may not be for you right now but it's not forever. It doesn't mean that you're never going to get a house.”
Black Iowa News: How do people reach you?
Bridgett Robinson: “I was at Juneteenth. We’re in various festivals, neighborhood association meetings. We’re out here in the community. Being out there and saying, ‘Hey, we’re here.’ We’re at the table now so that they remember NFC. So it again becomes a reminder that there’s this resource in the community that’s always been there that they can use and take advantage of. We’re kind of that hidden gem in Des Moines.”
Email Bridgett Robinson at email@example.com.
Events: Meet and Greet: The Des Moines Metro Area Interest Group of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI)
Time: 10 a.m.-11 a.m.
Date: Oct. 1, 2022
Place: Hoover High School, Library, 4800 NW Aurora Ave, Des Moines
Contact: Anita Fleming-Rife at firstname.lastname@example.org