This HousingWire Daily podcast transcription features an interview with Monique Winston, vice president-national business development executive and chair of the diversity and inclusion council at WFG National Title Insurance Company. In this episode, Winston discusses her work at WFG and as an advocate for Black homeownership.
Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, HousingWire listeners. Today I’m joined with Monique Winston, who is the vice president, national business development executive and chair of the diversity and inclusion council at WFG National Title Insurance Company. Thanks for joining us on HousingWire Daily.
Monique Winston: Well, thank you very much.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Listeners, Monique has more than 24 years of C Suite executive, legal and operations experience in the financial services arena, concentrating in the area of title insurance. As a nationally renowned minority business advocate, she also focuses on inclusion and development of women and minorities in business and as homeowners. Monique, can you tell us more about your background and how you entered the housing finance sector?
Monique Winston: Well, sure. And I must admit, it was not the trajectory that I saw myself taking, but I have actually been in the title industry for a little over 26 years now. And ironically, I didn’t anticipate getting into the title industry or anything real estate-related upon graduating from law school. You know, I tried a few things but after taking an opportunity at Lender Services actually in Pittsburgh, I found that the practice of title or real estate was much different than what I had experienced from an educational perspective. So you know, I tell people all the time I literally did not like any class that had to do with real estate or finance or anything of the sort. But you know, once I got into the practice of it, I found that there was kind of diversity opportunity, I’ll say, meaning that within one company, I could work in various areas. So for example, I could work in legal, I could work in title operations, I could work in closings, process improvement, executive level management, and literally that’s, you know, what I did. And I found, to me, I found an industry that was as versatile as the law degree that I had. So you know, again, I guess we always say I stumbled, you stumbled into the industry and then you never get out.
Alcynna Lloyd: Monique, as I mentioned prior, you’re nationally renowned as a minority business advocate. You’re also the president of the Cleveland Realtists, a local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. As a minority housing advocate and a chief diversity officer, what does your work often entail?
Monique Winston: Well, as an advocate, specifically for, I’m gonna say Black just to be more specific, but as an advocate for Black homeownership and opportunity, a lot of the initiatives and organizations that I’m involved in really focus on empowering, educating and uplifting African-Americans in terms of homeownership, business and real estate. So just by way of example, as you mentioned, I am the president of the Cleveland Real Estate Association, which is the local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, also known as NAREB. And as a national organization, NAREB is the oldest real estate trade organization and it dates back to 1947. So overall, the mission is to promote democracy in housing. So of course, that means focusing on increasing the rate of Black homeownership but not just for the sake of ownership, but really because of how it can enhance your life and literally change generational cycles. We also focus on making sure there’s legislation in support of our mission. So whether we are advocating fair housing initiatives or preventing predatory lending practices, or even some things that are not so overt such as, you know, the impact of student loan debt on students of color, or you know, 21st century red lining tactics.
You know, in any event, legislative advocacy is a big part of what we do and I think another thing is promoting industry related careers is also an important part of the puzzle. You know, it’s important that we help inform future generations about just all the career possibilities in the industry. You know, when NAREB was actually founded, part of the issue was that African-American real estate professionals were excluded from NAR, so they really had no choice at that time but to create a vehicle that could, you know, advance causes associated with real estate. And so, that’s real estate professionals, that’s consumers, that’s the community. So I guess in essence, that’s really what, for me, advocating for Black homeownership and opportunity looks like.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right, Monique. As we discuss diversity, whether we’re talking about at the corporate level or normal people, we have to teach on minority homeownership in general. Recent findings from U.S. Census Bureau indicates while the COVID-19 pandemic and economic turmoil have impacted the financial well-being of many Americans, data shows the U.S. homeownership rate rose in the fourth quarter of 2020 from the same period of last year. However, while the rate reached a record high for white homeowners, coming in at 74.5%, the rate for Black homeownership sank to the lowest level since the first quarter of 2020 at 44.1%. Monique, what are some factors that could have contributed to this decline? You mentioned red lining, predatory lending, but what do you think is contributing to this and why is the racial gap just this large?
Monique Winston: Well, okay. So you’re probably going to have to cut me off because now you’re really in my wheelhouse. But let me just, before I answer that part, let me just point out some perspective really as it relates to the statistics that you just gave. So I think actually, before we even look at the statistics that you gave for 2020, if we really wanna get a true perspective of what this looks like, we have to go a little bit back to ’19 and step forward. So I think you mentioned that the fourth quarter of 2020 saw a decline in the rate of Black homeownership, and it actually did. It was down from, like, 47% in third quarter to 44% in the fourth quarter. But you know what’s really interesting, if you look at 2019, so let’s say for example, the second quarter of 2019, the rate of Black homeownership was 40.6% in the third quarter of 2019. And then, like right around 42.7% or 43% for the fourth quarter. So those numbers are even lower than the numbers you’re quoting for 2020, and it’s kind of ironic because those numbers actually rival the same type of numbers that we were seeing even before the passage of the fair housing act. So really, what that means is that those numbers in 2019 are the same for a period of time when it was actually, you know, legal to discriminate. So I say all of that to say is because sometimes we look at it and you’re talking about, you know, the decline from the first quarter to the fourth quarter of 2020, but you know, just look at where we were in 2019. And while the rates did climb in 2020, we really have to take that with a little bit of a grain of salt to me because you know, despite COVID-19, our industry did really, really well in 2020. And so, we know that a rising tide rides all ships, so the real measure has to be the gap between white and Black homeownership as you mentioned.
But when we talk about some of the reasons why, they’re probably, you know, you and I could probably have a whole other segment and go real deep on that, but there’s something that we call SHIBA, which stands for the State of Housing in Black America. And it’s actually a report that comes out every year. And while, I guess everyone knows about some of the surface barriers, SHIBA really dives into some of the real things and the real components. So things such as, you know, I’m gonna use the word that people probably, some people find a little bit controversial, but there’s some systematic and intentional components that really have had a historical significance. You know, we’re talking about things that go back to racist laws and lending practices in real estate. We talk about discriminatory housing policies and practices of the past and present, but they actually still hurt a lot of Black families in their ability to, you know, build generational wealth. Again, these are things that people really don’t like to talk about, but they often wanna point to sort of the effect of it and kind of label that as the cause. But really, you know, there are past practices, you know, of government and the real estate industry that has really had a significant contribution, you know, in what we see today, whether they were race-restrictive covenants or federal subsidy laws in the 1930s that created, you know, restrictive areas, whether there were Jim Crow… So you can outlaw all of that but it won’t necessarily deal with the impact and I think that’s the part…I have a friend that always says, you know, “A good head start beats a fast runner any day.” So you know, if you think about that, that has a significant impact and even if we bring it forward today, we probably don’t see as many of those systematic things, but you see things probably on a more personal and individual level. So all these things, I think, contribute to the low rate of Black homeownership.
Let me be clear, I guess I’d rather do this. Let me be clear for the record. I am not at all eliminating or excusing, you know, anything that has to do with someone’s lack of personal responsibility, I guess. But what I’m saying is that these other barriers are just that they’re barriers that are sometimes insurmountable. So the biggest way to build generational wealth is through homeownership. If that option isn’t there, what does that mean? I guess that was a real long way around your question, but as you can see, Black homeownership is just a real passion of mine, and I just really believe in having those frank and open conversations.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, that’s perfect. It leads me to the next question. While we’ve discussed reasons as to why the racial homeownership gap persists today, but I wanna focus on what the industry is doing now to close the gap. In 2020 alone, several companies created diversity and inclusion roles as well as committees tasked with addressing the issue. What are some initiatives or programs WFG or NAREB have launched?
Monique Winston: And that’s true, you know, so many organizations created DE&I vehicles, and I’m not sure that a lot of the DE&I, diversity, equity and inclusion vehicles were directly tied to addressing the rate of Black homeownership or even the racial wealth gap. Although, I suppose that the more sophisticated policies and initiatives and the more advanced organizations could address that. I think in 2020, a lot of companies and people quite frankly, found themselves in a position where they really had no choice but to acknowledge the existence of an uneven playing field, and I think in doing that you wanna do something, right? You wanna have an outward manifestation of this, like, renewed revelation. So I think a lot of the DE&I initiatives and policies and practices were in many cases a first step towards saying, “Okay, what can I do to make a difference” or “what can I do to make a change?”
But however, in terms of, like, some concrete steps and initiatives, I’ll use NAREB for example, so NAREB, hrough its many chapters all across the nation, we not just in 2020, but since 1947, have put various things in place. I mentioned, I think I mentioned earlier there’s the SHIBA report, which stands for State of Housing in Black America. And that comes out every year and it delivers data, right, real true data. Because you can’t really address any of the issues that we’re talking about such as Black homeownership if you don’t know they exist and you don’t know the real impact. So that SHIBA report, which is published on the website, is one of the things that kinda undergirds a lot of the things that we do every year because it provides real, true data, whether you’re talking about lending practices by a specific institution, whether you’re talking about homeownership rates, and literally, on a nationwide level.
Another thing is something called 2Mn5 that’s an ongoing initiative and it seeks to really create, and I said 2Mn5 because it stands for Two Million Black Homeowners in Five Years. And underneath that you have all types of things that we deal with to reach that goal. So if the ultimate goal, to make a difference, is to create two million Black homeowners in five years, you know, there’s things we have to do. There’s legislative and advocacy efforts, which means making sure, for example, this new administration is aware of some of the things that we need to see in place. It means advocating for fair lending and credit practices. It also means education and teaching, you know, within our community because, you know, people need to know what it takes to make these dreams of homeownership a reality. It includes, you know, financial literacy. So NAREB not only has local real estate chapters all over the country, but we also have affiliates, like NID housing counseling agencies, which are HUD-approved counseling agencies and they focus on that educational component. And then, we have the Young Realtist Division, which focuses on our youth and millennials, because we definitely know that they are the future. And then, we even have, again, in order to reach that goal, we even have faith-based initiatives because we realize that the churches and other faith-based institutions play such a big, you know, a big role in our community. So those are just some of the things that NAREB has done. And you know, earlier we were talking about DE&I initiatives and being aware, and just wanting to make sure you’re on the right side of things and that you have an environment that is inclusive for all. So even at WFG, we have a diversity and inclusion council. And again, in everything that we do, we just wanna make sure that we are making everyone, whether you’re talking about race or gender or age, just making sure everybody feels inclusive.
Alcynna Lloyd: Those programs, I’m sure, are very helpful to a lot on people that may not know exactly about the homeownership process or just need more information about their own personal journey as they home buy or purchase the home. Monique, my last question for you today is, we’re conducting this interview during Black History month, and given the racial, political and social tension that heightened in 2020, this year feels a little different to me. As we wrap today, is there anything you’d like to speak on about what this month means to you or what it could mean for our industry at large?
Monique Winston: Right, it is Black History Month. For me, Black History Month and Black history in general kinda has a few components, okay? So you know, one, it’s an opportunity, right? It’s an opportunity for everyone, not just Black people, but for everyone to reflect upon the accomplishments of Black people and look at it from the lens of history, okay? What are some of the contributions. But not only that then, to reflect on these accomplishments, and many of them were made despite historical struggles and inequities that existed. So you know, once we acknowledged and reflect on them, you know, it’s really about moving beyond that and educating everyone so that we all have that same knowledge base. I think when you know a person’s worth and when people know their own worth, I think things change. I think when I know who I am and what I bring to the table, I carry myself differently. And when you know when someone sees you from a different perspective or they see what you bring to the table, you know, maybe they’ll begin to look at you differently and treat you differently. So sometimes, it’s just a matter of having that acknowledgement and it changes, not just the Black community, but also, you know, other communities who are now more aware of those contributions.
What are you doing today sometimes is the other component that comes to mind for me. You know, I look at it from the perspective of sort of Black history in action. You know, what are you doing today to make it different? What are you doing that is having an impact on the community at large. You know, perhaps as an industry, we start by just taking a look inward, right? Look at all the statistics that we talked about today. So you know, you can’t just look at Black history a thing of the past and the accomplishments, but what are you doing to change and impact the quality of life today. You know, some of those statistics that you and I talked about, they’re not good. They’re horrible. So clearly, with those numbers and the numbers we’re seeing there’s definitely work that needs to be done, and I think we have to start looking at Black history, not just in February, but all year round from that perspective. Black history in action. What are we doing. We spoke a lot about Black homeownership, but I cannot remember where I was reading this, probably some information that NAREB had put out. But the very latest or most recent Census Bureau data indicated that fewer than 6% of all real estate professionals were Black as compared to, I wanna say, like, 75% who were white, and you know, maybe like, 8% or 9% who were Hispanic. So now we’re talking about from a professional standpoint, so if you look at things like that, there are so many things that we can do as an industry by taking a look inward and trying to change some of those numbers and change that trajectory somewhat. And you know, some people may say, “That doesn’t have anything to do with Black history.” And I was like, “Yes, it’s history in action.” Well, that’s what I call it anyway.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, Monique, I love that. History in action. I want to thank you for joining us today on HousingWire Daily. You provided us with some really insightful information.
Monique Winston: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me and like I said, this is definitely an area that’s a passion of mine, 365 days of year. And I really, you know, I’m fortunate, one, to have an opportunity to work for a company like WFG that is open and, you know, doesn’t shy away from conversations that’ll help people and employees grow. And just for all the other roles that I’m involved in, whether they’re, you know, NAREB or my role with the Urban League, etc. So I thank you for the opportunity for letting me talk about what I love and my passion. I appreciate that.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
Monique Winston: Thank you.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. And listeners, we’ll see you here tomorrow.