‘A Home for All’

(Doreen Graves (l) and MBA Chair Kristy Fercho at the MBA Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference.)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—When Kristy Fercho was elected as Chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association this past October, she announced an ambitious agenda aimed at improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and greater opportunities for minority home borrowers.

Three months into her term, Fercho spoke here at the MBA Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference to discuss these initiatives. She cited the leadership role MBA has taken in promoting housing opportunities, giving back to the community and reaching underserved markets and discussed strategies—advocacy, partnerships and industry connections—to support MBA’s efforts to ensure fair, equitable and responsible lending for persons and communities of color.

In October, Fercho announced the MBA Home for All Pledge, an action pledge to promote inclusion in housing, and has led its implementation since. More than 150 MBA member companies have already signed the pledge.

“I have been overwhelmed by the response,” Fercho said. “Having looked at the systemic racism we have seen in this country and having so many members say, ‘I want to help change that,’ has been very gratifying.”

Change, Fercho said, is about “one thing you can do to make a difference. It’s more than about a pledge—it’s about what you can do to move us forward.”

Another MBA initiative has been MBA CONVERGENCE, a multi-year collaboration of stakeholders to improve minority homeownership in targeted communities. Over the past three years, CONVERGENCE has launched programs in Memphis, Tenn., and most recently in Columbus, Ohio.

“CONVERGENCE is all about testing different approaches, because each community requires different approaches to provide innovative solutions for the communities and opportunities for our members,” Fercho said.

Doreen Graves, West Tennessee Liaison for the Tennessee Housing Development Authority, got involved in CONVERGENCE: Memphis in 2019. She said it was important for CONVERGENCE to provide resources to minority neighborhoods; more importantly, she said, it was important to establish trust.

“Growing up, we all lived in apartments,” Graves said. “It never occurred to us that we could become homeowners. That is why it was so important to go into these neighborhoods in Memphis and have conversations from a foundation of trust.”

CONVERGENCE has been a win-win for THDA, Graves said. “All of us have a stake in these Workstreams that address problems and come up with solutions,” she said. “When you go into these communities, you have to approach it like someone has invited you into their home. It is their neighborhood; it is the feeling, the emotion, the family. CONVERGENCE is not about saying, ‘okay, we’ve done our part, see you later;’ it’s about becoming part of the community.”

Nearly 35 lenders are involved in CONVERGENCE: Memphis, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “Not only are they learning from each other, they’re learning about products they didn’t have a lot of knowledge about,” Graves said. “And there’s not really a lot of competition–it’s an even playing field, so lenders can let their hair down and learn from each other.”

Emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, Graves said a lot of adjustments must take place. “Rents are going up, which has taken some peoples’ minds off of homeownership, but also sharpened their approach to homeownership,” she said. “Financing is another challenge; finding the means to achieve homeownership—or even a decent place to rent—is becoming increasingly important.”

While CONVERGENCE: Memphis has put up impressive numbers—with well-attended programs, homeownership fairs, substantial participation within the MBA community—Graves said the real impact has been the human touch.

“People will remember how they make you feel,” Graves said. “This is where CONVERGENCE has done an excellent job. The buzz is there, and that’s just because of one-on-one conversations and word of mouth. CONVERGENCE is ‘doing the do.’”

As CONVERGENCE expands into other cities, Graves said, its importance increases, not just nationally, but globally.

“I’d love to have a global piece so that I can see what kind of solutions come from it. We need to be all lined up, saying the same thing, doing the same thing.”