SOMA Community Coalition on Race presents new black homebuyer initiative

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — In an effort to address racialized housing inequities, the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race is launching the Wealth Gap Equalizer Loan program with the goal of supporting a new generation of black and nonwhite Hispanic homebuyers in South Orange and Maplewood. 

According to the coalition in a March 30 press release, the historical racial inequities in homeownership that are still present in Essex County today threaten to constrain the racial diversity of South Orange and Maplewood. In fact, white non-Hispanic households in Essex County are 41 percent more likely to own a home than their black and nonwhite Hispanic counterparts. This gap is greater today than it was 50 years ago, prior to the passage of the Fair Housing Act, according to the coalition.

The WGEL program is structured to narrow this ownership gap by making homebuying more attainable for black and nonwhite Hispanic families in the South Orange and Maplewood communities. WGEL is a special purpose credit program that offers qualifying first-time homebuyers loans up to $7,500. The program relies on interest-free, unsecured loans that will enable historically disadvantaged families to successfully compete in the homebuying process by providing supplemental cash for purchase offers, down payments, closing costs, legal fees and other transactions related to homebuying.

In collaboration with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development–approved counseling agencies, mortgage lenders and real estate professionals serving SOMA, the coalition has designed the program to ensure that WGEL loan applicants receive counseling, referrals and reliable support throughout the application and homebuying process. These loans feature a five-year repayment plan with no early penalties, and are designed to provide homebuyers with their funds as quickly as possible, if approved. The coalition is the administrator of the loans.

“I am so excited to partner with the Community Coalition on Race to intentionally recruit and welcome new families to South Orange while doing our part to address the unconscionable racial homeownership disparities that plague New Jersey,” South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said. “The diversity, progressive values and inclusive nature of our towns are the cornerstone of what makes us so desirable, and this special purpose loan reinforces that commitment.”

“The Community Coalition’s demonstrated work in equity and integration is further cemented with its new innovative initiative, the Wealth Gap Equalizer Program,” Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis said. “As a housing and social justice advocate and former member of the coalition’s Residential Committee, which conceived this program, I’m particularly excited about and very proud of this strategy to better integrate SOMA with black and nonwhite Hispanic first-time homeowners. Congratulations to the coalition and to SOMA; this is yet another reason to move to South Orange and Maplewood.”

To learn more and to apply for WGEL, visit