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Black Women Build
The racial gap in homeownership and home equity is a central reason the median wealth of white households is approximately ten times that of Black households. And yet, in majority-Black communities like Baltimore, there are thousands of vacant houses. Activist builder Shelley Halstead founded the non-profit Black Women Build-Baltimore (BWBB) to desegregate homeownership and close this gap. As a homeownership and wealth-building initiative, BWBB buys abandoned houses, then works with Black women to restore them, training the women in the process in carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing. Once habitable, Halstead sells the houses to the same women at affordable prices. This highly personal design-build model creates a sustainable relationship to homeownership, a strategy that reimagines the outcomes of urban gentrification and the roles of designers and developers in it.
Halstead moved to Baltimore in 2015, bringing with her a law degree and insight from a decade as a carpenter. Confronted with the vision of the city’s vast stretches of vacant houses, she persuaded the city’s housing commissioner not to demolish a condemned block in the Druid Heights area, an all too telling result of a familiar pattern in redlined neighborhoods with a vacancy rate twice the city average. Halstead then purchased a section of abandoned row houses, with the goal of providing the opportunities of economic mobility and stability that comes with home ownership to a community of people historically denied them. By the end of 2021, four new homeowners had moved onto the block and three more houses were near completion.