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Rocket’s Laura Grannemann on housing inequality

Today’s HousingWire Daily episode features the first episode of the Women of Influence podcast miniseries. Each Tuesday, HW+ Managing Editor Brena Nath interviews one of HousingWire’s remarkable Women of Influence on their latest contributions to the industry, the women they look up to and how they’re moving markets forward.

The miniseries leads into the announcement of the 2021 HousingWire Women of Influence award winners, which will be announced on Aug. 1. This first episode features 2020 Woman of Influence Laura Grannemann, vice president of Strategic Investments at Rocket Community Fund, as she discusses how COVID-19 has starkly highlighted inequity in housing across the country.

Grannemann founded the fund when she was 24 years old with the goal of increasing opportunities for residents of Detroit and other Rocket home cities. During the episode, Grannemann shares some advice on how people listening can make an impact in this industry and where to start. She also touches on the women that she looks up to and gives some insight on how to recruit more women into the housing space.

Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Brena Nath: As a 2020 Woman of Influence, what have you been focused on the last year?

Laura Grannemann: Well, the last year has been a lot of craziness, really, for all of us involved. But I think that what’s been really, really great about our work is that we knew that some of these inequities existed prior to the pandemic, but having the pandemic hit, really accelerated a lot of the work that we were doing, and really accelerated a lot of the partnerships that we have in this space. And so we’ve seen a lot of momentum with some of this work, especially on the housing side. So over the past year, we’ve had a number of really critical announcements and launches of programs.

HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today.  Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Brena Nath: Hi, I’m Brena Nath, HW+ managing editor here at HousingWire. I’m excited to kickstart our “Women of Influence” mini-podcast series. This is a series where we spotlight the significant contributions of women in the industry who are helping drive the markets forward, kind of catching up on what they’re doing and looking at what they’re doing in the road ahead.

So I’m excited for my first guest. I have Laura Grannemann. She has been someone I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting with in person. I got to see firsthand the work that she is doing in Michigan, and along with the impactful change that she has. To start off, I wanted to read a little bit of her Women of Influence profile — she was a 2020 Woman of Influence — to give you just a little bit of a feel or to see the impact that she’s had in the industry, and then I’ll let her take away, what has she done since we’ve given her this award back in 2020.

So she founded the Quicken Loans Community Fund when she was 24 years old with the goal of increasing opportunities for residents of Detroit and other Quicken Loans home cities. As the philanthropic arm of Quicken Loans and the Rock Family of Companies, the fund was created to give residents access to safe and affordable housing and build wealth through homeownership. As the vice president of strategic investments, Grannemann and her team drive systemic change through investing $30 million annually.

One, I know Quicken Loans, technically, that has also phased out of existence. So that’s one note…change since then, along with, I’m sure, with many other things. So, first off, Laura, I just wanted to say thanks so much for joining me.

Laura Grannemann: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Brena Nath: So, as a 2020 Woman of Influence, as I noted previously, we’re halfway through 2021, about to almost kickstart Q3, Q4, going to 2022, can you share some of what you’ve been focused on since we first gave you this award, and what has the last year looked like for you?

Laura Grannemann: Well, the last year has been a lot of craziness, really, for all of us involved. But I think that what’s been really, really great about our work is that we knew that some of these inequities existed prior to the pandemic, but having the pandemic hit really accelerated a lot of the work that we were doing, and really accelerated a lot of the partnerships that we have in the space. So we’ve seen a lot of momentum with some of this work, especially on the housing side.

So over the past year, we’ve had a number of really critical announcements and launches of programs. I’ll kind of name two. The first is we’ve been able to work with the Gilbert Family Foundation to announce a $500-million 10-year commitment to the City of Detroit, and to building opportunity and equity for Detroit residents.

As you know, the City of Detroit is home base for us at Rocket Mortgage and for Dan Gilbert, our chairman and founder. So it holds a really important place in all of our hearts. And we’re really proud to be able to work directly with Detroit residents to support some of the work that they’re already doing, to build and grow that work, and to break down some of the systemic barriers that we see existing in our ecosystem every day.

So that’s our partnership with the Gilbert Family Foundation. We launched, actually, in March, with a $15-million commitment to ending property tax foreclosure across the City of Detroit. We’ve seen, for many years, that property tax foreclosure has been this huge drain on homeownership, especially black homeownership, in Detroit, because there’s some high property tax rates, because there are resources and tools but people aren’t really accessing them at scale. And so we recognize that really, people were held back by these back taxes that they really shouldn’t have had to pay for in the first place, if they had known about some of these resources.

So we’ve been able to work with the city and the county to pass some significant legislation that cuts down on those back taxes. And then the Gilbert Family Foundation was able to come in with that $15-million commitment to wiping out all of the rest of back taxes for low-income Detroit homeowners. So it’s really helping Detroit homeowners start with a clean slate, make sure that they’re set up for success going forward, make sure that they have the support that they need to retain their homeownership so that they can build wealth for generations to come.

And then, when we think about the Rocket Community Fund work, we’re really excited to be able to now take some of the work that we’ve built in the City of Detroit that’s so deep and connects our philanthropic priorities and our business priorities to help grow, you know, better programs, better products, products that are gonna work for our communities across the country, and start to take some of that deep work in Detroit and build other hubs across the country. So we’re really focused on bridging the racial homeownership gap, at the Rocket Community Fund right now, and we’re starting to launch some work that, again, really ties closely our philanthropic priorities and our business priorities to make sure that, you know, our client experience should be seamless across both.

If we’re supporting someone who needs property tax foreclosure assistance or we’re supporting someone who needs to refinance, that client experience should be seamless. We should help people be able to go from not being a homeowner to taking the next step in their homeownership journey. And we’re really excited to have some of those supports and wraparound services exist, both on the philanthropic side and on the business side.

Brena Nath: We recently featured a Q&A with you leading up to our Women of Influence awards opening for 2021. And when I was going kind of through that Q&A, there was one quote that stuck out to me that I would love for you to expand upon. You mentioned in that recent interview that COVID-19, and you almost touched on this a little bit in your previous answer, has starkly highlighted housing inequalities across the country. So while the underlying issues haven’t’ changed, our level of urgency around mobilizing must increase. Kind of digging deeper into that, what does this look like in action and can you just expand on this?

Laura Grannemann: Yeah, absolutely. So as I said, all of these inequities existed prior to COVID-19, but COVID really did shine a spotlight on some of the inequities that we’re seeing today. We especially recognize, during COVID-19, the importance of home, right. We’ve all been home for the last year and a half, and some people…for some people, home is a very stable place. And for other people, home doesn’t have stability associated. And so we recognize that we need to make sure that the systems that we all interact with on a daily basis are supporting every member of our community, especially when it comes to housing stability.

So throughout COVID-19, we’ve been really blessed to be able to work closely with our community partners and with national partners to be able to focus our work on driving systemic change, both in the City of Detroit, and now, as I’ve said, increasingly across the country.

Brena Nath: The audience for this podcast, it really is the lending community of [inaudible 00:07:16.325], servicers, boots on the ground, along with decision-makers. What advice would you give to people listening, who are hearing what you’re saying, that need the potential for making a difference in the community and how someone…how you’re doing it? So what advice would you give them on just a place to start?

Laura Grannemann: Yeah, the advice that I always give is to start by falling in love with the problem. We talk about it a lot here. It’s a really important first step. A lot of people will have solutions in mind, but without that first step of falling in love with the problem, and really deeply understanding the experience of the people that you’re trying to serve, whether that’s a philanthropic client or a business client, whether you’re a loan officer or an appraiser, really deeply understanding the challenges that your clients are facing and then really deeply asking yourself why are the systems set up in a way that’s creating this challenge in the first place?

By taking those first two steps, you are able to better inform the solutions and strategies that you need to implement, moving forward.

Brena Nath: My next question for you, kind of, changes topics a little bit, but I’m sure your answer might still be in that same field. I always like asking, you know, the women leaders in this space, who are you looking up to? Or who do you go to for advice, whether it’s even a mentor or, kind of, an inspiration for what you want to be as you continue career? Are there any women in this industry, or even outside of this industry, that you look up to that you would also, maybe, recommend following?

Laura Grannemann: Yeah, so a couple of people immediately come to mind. The first is…I’m extremely blessed to be able to work with some amazing women across the Rock Family of Companies, and one in particular, her office is right down the hall here, is Trina Scott, who, actually, was also, I think, a Woman of Influence in 2020. She’s our chief diversity officer and she has been a fabulous partner. She’s someone that I go to all the time for advice and just to connect, to make sure that we are really in lockstep as we drive forward some of these strategies, but she’s such an inspiration, because she’s able to really work at weaving diversity, equity, and inclusion into every decision that we make across the Rock Family of Companies. So it’s been really inspirational to watch her.

And then the other people that come to mind, honestly, are local community partners here in the City of Detroit. There is one woman in particular, her name’s Sonya Mays, and she’s fantastic because she is a developer here in the city. She runs an organization called Develop Detroit. And for those who know the City of Detroit, well, it can be really difficult to manage development in the City of Detroit and build partnerships and capital stacks that make sense and Sonya does it every day with lots of grace and expertise. So I’m blessed to have partners like her in Detroit and across the country.

Brena Nath: I always like the answers to that question because it’s so important. Back, we had “Girlfunds,” we used to talk a lot about sending the elevator, kind of, back down, and then also who you were looking up to to inspire to be as a young female in this industry. There’s so many women out there who are, kind of, helping carve the path forward, whether it’s in the nonprofit world, or even just people like Trina, who I also had the pleasure of speaking with. It’s really cool to, kind of, hear your thoughts there.

Laura Grannemann: Yeah. It’s so important for us to be able to show amazing examples of the work that’s getting done across the country, and as you said, support each other in this work because, you know, I think, we, as women, do sometimes approach problem-solving a little bit differently and it is so important to have that diversity of perspective around the table so that we can bring others alongside us and make sure that we’re all, you know, in this fight together.

Brena Nath: For my last question, and I might be wrong in this, so correct me on exactly when you got into the industry, but I’m pretty sure it was one of…but it was also your first job or you interned, but you’ve been in this industry, kind of, since the beginning of your career, same over here. What do you think it would take to get more women or young females to aspire to join the lending industry or you can expand it, the servicing industry title, whatever it may be, especially because Rock Family of Companies, I mean, it touches every part, so there’s so many spots in this industry that are…have the possibilities for disruption. And so from your perspective, as someone who did get in pretty early on, what would it take to get more women in this industry, and maybe why is it important?

Laura Grannemann: Yeah, I did join the industry from a very young age. And I think what really kept me excited and motivated to keep working in this space is the fact that it is really a changing and moving industry right now that has such an opportunity for us to inform it in a way that’s gonna serve people more going forward.

So, for a long time, I think the lending industry has maybe come across to the general public as stale or the same thing that’s happening every day. But I can say, with lots of certainty, being in this position, that 100%, we are driving some critical changes in this system and in this industry that are going to better our society up for success going forward, and to be a part of that is an incredibly exciting opportunity.

So I think just getting the word out that there’s actually a lot of really interesting systemic change and work that’s being driven by lending institutions. I’ll say it, the Rock Family of Companies has done an absolutely fantastic job at leading in some of these spaces, and so that’s what’s really kept me motivated and excited to come back to work and work with a great group of people every day.

Brena Nath: That’s so well put. You could have such a critical impact in the nation. There’s 50 states across America. People need homes. There’s so many, kind of, little spots within there to make a difference on so many different levels. You can do it at your level, to also just…you have, I’m sure, home builds on the local level, you could help someone and make a change.

So I think I really want to say, just appreciate what you’re saying, what you’re doing. You’ve done a lot of exciting things since we first, kind of, highlighted you back in 2020, and I’m sure, Laura, this won’t be the last time we chat. But thank you so much for joining us on HousingWire Daily today.

Laura Grannemann: Yeah, thank you. I really appreciate the time.

HousingWire Daily

Hosted by the journalists behind the headlines, HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom.

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