As a Black kid growing up in north Minneapolis, Trent Bowman was naive about the challenges and inequities that faced his race. His mother did a good job of hiding their struggles despite longing to own a home of her own.
"When my mother finally had an opportunity to be a homeowner and she was rejected by a bank, they didn't really give an explanation or any options or opportunities for homeownership for her at that time," Bowman said.
Bowman's mother, who worked in senior public housing, always made sure to give her son the impression she was in control. What she couldn't control, he said, was the bank — which denied her a home loan.
Now Bowman, 54, is dedicating his life to Black homeownership.
"Throughout history, we've always been left out of the homeownership game," said Bowman, president of the Twin Cities chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB).
NAREB is an equal opportunity and civil rights advocacy group founded in 1947 to ensure that African Americans and other people of color receive fair treatment throughout their journey to homeownership.
Bowman also recently accepted a position as vice president and business development officer at MidWestOne Bank, where he will continue his work for minority homeowners.
Throughout his 25-year lending career, Bowman has specialized in first-time home buyers and programs.
"It's about leaving a legacy," Bowman said. "It's about building wealth within our race of people. It's about understanding the history to work in the present so that we can leave our kids something in the future."
He points to the 2020 State of Housing in Black America (SHIBA) report, commissioned by NAREB. The report, citing U.S. Census figures, found that the homeownership rate was 42% for Black households compared to 73% for white households.
A primary factor in this divide is a stubborn racial income gap. In 2018, the median income for Black households was 40% lower than the median for white households. White households had a median net worth 10 times higher than the median net worth for Black households, according to SHIBA.
Redlining purposely kept areas homogenous, Bowman said, and oppressive real estate practices also played a role. Notably, in 1950, the vibrant working class Rondo neighborhood had 85% of St. Paul's African American population. By 1956, 600 African Americans lost their homes and hundreds of Black business owners their livelihoods when construction of Interstate 94 tore through Rondo to connect St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"It has to stop. In order for it to stop, we have to get our people more prepared, ready and aggressive about homeownership so these things don't happen to us in the future," he said.
Recently, Bowman helped Kathleen Paige buy a single-family dwelling in the Jordan neighborhood of north Minneapolis. The 52-year-old first-time homeowner calls it her dream house.
Before last month, no one on Paige's mother's side owned a home.
"I never thought it was possible for me to do it," she said. "I have a new outlook on life; if you want something, you have to go get it," Paige said.
She was referred to Bowman by a friend who had also bought a home through him. Throughout their time working together, Paige faced many uncertainties and doubts. Bowman eased all of her worry.
"Every time he said, 'I got you,' he had me," Paige said. "He had my front and he had my back. He took care of everything. He was a man of his word."
Even if homeownership isn't possible in the moment, Bowman said he strives to work with people to believe that it will be eventually.
"It's never a fast no, it's always a slow yes," Bowman said. "You may not be able to buy today based on your credit or assets position, but you will be able to buy tomorrow if you listen."
He works with prospective buyers so that they are prepared when that day comes — and aren't denied the way his mother was. That includes credit score preparation and education on loan assistance programs.
"We aren't going to give the bank a reason to deny us," he said.
Bowman is quick to praise his team of other Black loan officers and real estate agents at NAREB.
"We have loan officers that don't see color but opportunity. Real estate agents that don't see color but see opportunity," Bowman said.
"As a team of individuals, we're changing lives."
Amudalat Ajasa is a Twin Cities freelance writer.