The two-story red brick house was the second one 22-year-old Anthony Bradford ever toured. But the moment he walked through the door, he knew it was where he wanted to settle.
Weeks later, with a $90,000 forgivable loan from the city of St. Paul, Bradford closed on the $229,000 house. It sits not far from where Bradford's great-great-grandfather once owned a duplex that was torn down to make way for Interstate 94.
Bradford is the first person to receive down payment assistance from St. Paul's Inheritance Fund, a program launched earlier this year with the goal of rebuilding wealth lost by displaced residents of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood.
More than 700 homes and 300 businesses were razed in the 1950s and 1960s, when the highway ripped through the hub of St. Paul's Black community. Many received payments from the state far less than the values of their homes, and racial covenants and discriminatory loan practices made it difficult for some Black families to buy houses in other parts of the city.
Mayor Melvin Carter, whose grandfather lost several commercial properties in Rondo, points to a 2020 study that estimates the community lost $157 million in home equity.
"While we've offered public apologies for the destruction of Old Rondo … we know that words cannot replace what was lost to the construction of I-94," the mayor said. "We can't undo those historical wrongs. But what we can do is to provide descendants of Old Rondo, like Mr. Bradford, the opportunity to reclaim that lost value."
Loan requests flood in
The Inheritance Fund allows former Rondo residents and their descendants to apply for two types of loans: up to $110,000 in down payment assistance or up to $80,000 for home rehabs.
There are some stipulations. Applicants must meet income eligibility requirements, and the loans must go toward properties in St. Paul (there are additional incentives if the home is located within the historic boundaries of Rondo). The loans will be forgiven at an amortized rate over 15 years.
Inheritance Fund recipients are required to sign a notarized affidavit saying they are the direct descendant of a specific property owner who lost land in Rondo. The nonprofit Rondo Community Land Trust works with the city to help verify ancestries using property records and other documents.
The fund builds upon existing city programs designed to provide housing assistance to low-income residents. Tara Beard, St. Paul's housing director, said the city currently has about $2.4 million for down payment assistance and $600,000 for housing rehabs — but city leaders said they expect to replenish both pots as needed, hinting at future efforts to expand and complement the Inheritance Fund.
"There's been a lot of interest — national and philanthropic interest," Beard said. "I think we're very much excited to see if we can find additional partners to help increase our impact and increase how quickly we can serve folks."
The city stopped accepting applications for both its down payment assistance and homeowner rehab programs in May after receiving hundreds of requests. About 375 of those came from folks with Rondo ties.
Beard said the city plans to start accepting more applications early next year. Funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Carter said he believes the Inheritance Fund is "an unprecedented program," though he added that the policy is somewhat similar to a Portland, Ore. program targeting harms caused by gentrification in a few neighborhoods.
Bradford learned about the Inheritance Fund earlier this year during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, where the mayor spoke. He quickly signed up for a community education class for potential homebuyers.
"I really knew the opportunity in this loan," Bradford said.
On Wednesday, he gave the mayor a tour of his new home, pointing out his favorite details: the modernized kitchen, his music room, a nook for his new kitten, Hermes.
Though Bradford's work as a U.S. Bank software engineer and team lead at Domino's keeps him busy, he said he's already dreaming up home improvement projects. The five-bedroom, two-bathroom house has an unfinished basement that seems ripe for renovation.
"I just never believed this could happen to me," Bradford said. "It really means the world to me, and there is so much more I can do in order to pay it forward."
After celebrating the milestone — for Bradford and the city — with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Carter handed over a housewarming gift. Bradford unwrapped a city flag for one of his yet-to-be-filled walls.