In His Own Words: Jesse Beason, Executive Director, Proud Ground
Proud Ground’s mission is to advance community and individual prosperity by making investments in the families we serve. Basically, we help low- and moderate-income families buy their first home – a quality home at a price they can afford.
We have helped 130 families buy their first home. We have 117 permanently affordable homes in the Portland area – 76 of those are in North/Northeast and the rest are in Southeast Portland. We’ve been pretty focused in the Interstate Corridor and Lents Town Center urban renewal areas recently, but there are Proud Ground homes in other parts of the city as well.
We meet our mission by working in partnership with funders, lenders, employers, schools, churches, and the community to engage folks and let them know that our resources are available.
Making Homes Affordable
Proud Ground uses the community land trust model. This model was developed in the early 1960s by a group of African-American farmers in Alabama who wanted to avoid the practice of share-cropping. But they also knew they wanted something to pass on to the next generation, to ensure that farming stayed affordable. The land trust movement grew, and became focused on homeownership for people who are being priced out of the market. The goal is to help families get their foot in the door, and also to also ensure that we have affordable homeownership opportunities for the next generation.
For each family we serve, we fund-raise for anywhere between $40,000 to $90,000. We use that money to lower the purchase price, to lower the bar of entry for families who are currently priced out of the market. At the same time, our families agree that if they ever decide to sell, they will also pass on the opportunity to another income-qualified family. A home bought through our program is meant to stay affordable forever.
We started our work in 1999, after folks took a hard look at many of our neighborhoods, particularly in North and Northeast Portland. The neighborhoods were becoming gentrified and increasingly unaffordable. Proud Ground was started as a tool to provide opportunities for people to buy homes at a price they can afford.
Most of our families can’t afford a market-rate home, so we do need public and private resources to lower the purchase price. In urban renewal areas, we are fortunate to be able to use tax increment financing from those areas. We have also used other resources, such as federal grants and private foundation dollars to lower those purchase prices.
Focusing on Communities of Color
One of the most startling facts to me is that from 1945 to 1995, when you adjust for inflation, our parents and our grandparents paid about the same amount of money for a home. Fast forward today, and the price has doubled. What that means is that it’s getting harder and harder for folks who’ve historically been priced out of the market to ever get that first foot in the door.
We know that when your parents and grandparents own their home, you’re far more likely to own your own home. If that’s never been part of the family history, then it’s so much harder to enter the market and to buy that first home. We also know that there’s huge gap in homeownership among families of color, when compared to white families who own their own homes.
Communities of color are overrepresented in the renter community. That’s why our goal is to close the homeownership gap through targeted outreach: working with churches, employers and schools to make sure folks know that we’re out there. More than half of our households are households of color.
I graduated with a degree in communications from Lewis and Clark College. I worked in a public relations firm, then at Oregon Public Broadcasting then moved to METRO in their public affairs department. I took a position with then-Commissioner Sam Adams, working on housing policy and land use and planning issues. That’s when the interest and excitement that this organization represented first came to me. I had the opportunity to serve on the board for three years. When the opportunity of role of executive director became available, I applied, and here I am.
As executive director, my primary role is to ensure that the organization has the resources to meet its mission. Do we have the money to operate? Do we have the resources needed to make homes affordable for our families? Do we have the staff and members of the board to carry out the work?
My cultural experiences are integral to the way that I lead. Being willing to constantly ask the difficult but important questions are critical: are we doing the best we can to serve the broad diversity in our community?
Each individual homeowner represents such a great success. One of our most recent homeowners has moved into a green and sustainable home we just built, and he no longer has chronic allergies. One family moved eight times in 10 years. Now they have a permanent place to call home, they won’t have to switch schools in the middle of the school year because the rent went up too much.
A critical part of our success is being a transparent and honest organization. It’s about building relationships with people over time so they understand and come to really know the organization. Buying a home is a big step, especially if you’ve never thought it was possible.
“It takes a village…”
Our approach in homeownership is unique, and we are successful in our approach. We hope to get our story out to more people who should know about us. We recently expanded to serve all of Multnomah County, particularly Gresham. We hope to very soon be serving Washington County as well.
Our homeowners come from all walks of life. The majority of families we serve have children, and many of our families have children after they purchase their first home. A great majority are female-headed households. There are homeowners living with disabilities. We have clients that are new families who are in their 20s, and we also serve seniors who are retired.
We’re proud that we have no foreclosures, despite the economic downturn. Because our families have affordable mortgages, they have been able to weather a job loss, or reduction in work hours, without risking losing their home.
It takes a village to purchase a home. We work in partnership with public funders and the private sector. Whether it’s working with a local regional bank to help a family secure a mortgage, or working with a community-minded for-profit developer who’s interested in building quality, sustainable homes at a price point that our families can afford.
Colors of Influence :: Sumer 2010