Building Black Financial Wealth

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Cerita Battles

In partnership with JPMorgan Chase, the Crusader is launching a series that focuses on the growing racial wealth gap, the causes behind it and what needs to be done to ensure that people in all communities can thrive. In the weeks ahead, this column will provide a mix of commentary on the issues facing communities like ours and consumer tips to help strengthen the financial health of our readers.

We want to be sure this conversation provokes discussion around what all stakeholders must do to address racial inequities – from policymakers to business, non-profits and even residents, and provides useful tips you can use in your households today. We welcome your ideas and questions to be covered in this series and encourage you to email those questions and ideas to banking@chicagocrusader.com.

JPMorgan Chase recently announced a $600M multi-faceted commitment to addressing the racial wealth gap in Chicago. This commitment includes a 60% increase in home lending to Black and Brown Chicagoans. We sat down with Managing Director Cerita Battles, Head of Affordable Lending Strategies at JPMorgan Chase, to understand more about the bank’s plans.

Battles has more than 31 years of experience in the financial industry, 23 years specifically dedicated to mortgage and previously worked at JPMorgan Chase for over eight years.

Prior to rejoining JPMorgan Chase, Battles was the Senior Vice President and Head of Retail Diverse Segments for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. While there, she was responsible for establishing the company’s strategic plan and lending goals to increase and enable sustainable homeownership among low-to-moderate income homebuyers and communities as well as ethnic minority homebuyers across the full economic spectrum.

Before joining Wells Fargo, Cerita worked for Bank of America as the Centralized Sales Site Executive and a Business Development Executive. She managed a team of Business Development Managers that developed, implemented and executed “grassroot” low-to- moderate income and multicultural strategies across all mortgage production channels (Retail, Wholesale, Correspondent and Centralized Sales).

Tell us about the announcement you recently made to strengthen lending for Black and Brown people in Chicago. What brought this about and why are you doing it?

Earlier this month we announced a firm-wide commitment to advance racial equity among Black and LatinX people in Chicago by expanding affordable homeownership and lending to minority-owned businesses. This includes doubling our homebuyer grant, and hiring dedicated home lending advisors in our South and West side branches to assist residents with their homebuying process.

Structural barriers in the U.S. have created profound racial inequalities when it comes to wealth building, and those gaps have only grown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know these gaps are prevalent in Chicago, specifically on the South and West sides, as homeownership and access to capital become further out of reach, particularly among Black and LatinX people. While there’s no one solution to this complicated problem, we have a responsibility to address the key drivers of the racial wealth divide head on.

This commitment is an important step forward, but there’s more work to be done.

Recognizing there are many issues that cause the discrepancies in homeownership rates for Black people today, what would you say are among the biggest barriers to homeownership in the Black community?

The biggest issue is the systemic racism that has led to the racial and economic inequalities we see today. That is a big and complicated issue and we know the only way it will be solved is if each of us takes responsibility for the problem, and moves forward with solutions over which they have control.

As we looked at our unique responsibility and ability to impact change, we focused on the steps in the pathway to homeownership where we see the biggest challenges.

We know two of the biggest challenges when it comes to accessing homeownership are the struggle to afford the upfront costs, like down payments and closing costs, and the lack of dedicated resources in Black and LatinX communities to inform, educate and counsel. We’re moving on both of these and are doing so quickly.

We have already begun to address these challenges when we announced the doubling of our homebuyer grant early this summer as well as the hiring of Community Managers and Community Home Lending Advisors to help meet the banking and home-financing needs of the community.

Additionally, we will continue to partner with community leaders, non-profits, housing counselors, employees and customers to identify additional needs for getting more people homebuyer ready. 

How did you come up with these specific commitments?

These solutions were determined through a combination of internal research and conversations with policymakers, community leaders, activists and customers in Chicago. We focused on gathering localized information from experts to ensure our solutions matched what is happening and being felt by leaders and residents in the community. We prioritized collaboration and will continue to do so as we refine what we’re able to do.

The racial wealth gap is not only in home lending. Are you focused on other areas, like small businesses and helping residents without
bank accounts?

Yes. Earlier this month we also announced a new program designed to help entrepreneurs in historically underserved areas access coaching, technical assistance and capital. The new nationwide program launched in Chicago with consultants who will provide over 1,500 Black and LatinX-owned small businesses with 1:1 mentorship and digital education to help grow their businesses.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll also share more about how we’re investing in our branches, including a new community branch in Stony Island, while making sure more people in Chicago, particularly in the South and West sides, have better access to banking and advice. 

Will you be tracking and reporting publicly on the progress you’re making toward these commitments?

We are being transparent about our commitments because we think accountability is important.   We want and expect to be held accountable by our customers, policymakers and community leaders with whom we are working to strengthen lending to Black and LatinX families.

We will be releasing annual progress reports in addition to ongoing communications with policymakers and community leaders who are helping to inform our plans.

Where can readers go for more information on JPMorgan Chase commitments to addressing racial and economic inequality, like the $600M in home lending?

I’d encourage residents to visit www.chase.com/Chicago to learn more about home lending commitments in the city, or visit their neighborhood branch.

This story is the first in our series on Black financial health that is made possible from a sponsorship by JPMorgan Chase. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Member FDIC

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