Wilmington, NC

Women's month heroes: Meet Brenda Dixon, a Black woman changing her community, one family at a time.

Barbara Washington

It's realtor Brenda Dixon's birthday, and Wilmington has a lot to celebrate.

Reflecting on her years of spins around the sun, Brenda seems surprisingly relaxed for a woman who runs multiple businesses, is impacting local community, and has made a lifestyle out of around-the-clock community service.

This past year, her Get that Deed program, a local initiative designed to assist first-time homebuyers, especially those without access to financial education, has exceeded its goals. The program is in its 10th year and only started gaining traction in the last 3 years. "In 2021 we celebrated our 50th family," Brenda remembers. "This year, we have served 152."

Brenda's Get that Deed program's website tells visitors the program came into being when Brenda "awoke one morning in 2013 feeling as though she had 'a divine download in the middle of the night.' She headed out into the Wilmington, North Carolina community and told everyone she came in contact with that 'no matter your current finances, in 18 months or less, you can be a homeowner!'"

Brenda has been doing this ever since.

At 60, the petite and sweet senior woman with sparkling eyes looks full of energy and joy, looks like someone you'd expect to be found dropping a delicious casserole off at your door with a warm, tight hug, rather than a woman making big changes in harsh, oppositional environments and navigating complex housing issues. But don't let her joyful smile, quiet demeanor, and gentle spirit fool you- Brenda is a fighter. She's also a realtor, and one you want in your corner.

"My goal for 2023 is to continue to help families become first-time homebuyers, and first-time home sellers," she says, "to avoid the pitfalls and to continue to build generational wealth." This has been her mission for the thirty-plus years she has been in business.

Brenda's specialty is thinking outside the box. Beginning her career working as a rent collector for a slumlord, she decided to change things when she noticed she was collecting rent from kind, hard-working people who hated where they lived and were tired of paying rent. This prompted her to enter real estate school thirty-one years ago, and the rest, as they say, is history.

"Finding affordable housing is like finding a needle in a haystack," she states. "There are so many good-hearted, hard-working families. The ones who need it the most don't have knowledge about the systems."

The Gap, a project of the national low-income housing coalition, publishes statistics from the American Community Survey and Public Use Microdata Sample surrounding affordable housing in North Carolina, where there are currently 39 available affordable homes per every 100 families defined as extremely low-income, and at least 343,385 extremely low-income households at last count, pointing to a severe burden on 72% of NC's families in need of affordable housing.

As a local crisis brews in her hometown of Wilmington, NC this month, a town like many others across the nation where homelessness rates have severely spiked, there may be no better time to sit down and listen to her.

Brenda remembers she created Get that Deed because she didn't want anyone to feel shame or judgment. She wanted people who didn't have a bank account, or whose credit scores are in the 400s, to know that there was a path.

Historically, underserved populations in the U.S. have faced difficulty finding affordable housing and fairness in treatment. Industry professionals have often pulled focus from these needs since these families are not the most advantageous clientele for realtors and lenders looking for a hefty paycheck and a job that doesn't require nights, weekends, and constant attention. Racism has played a significant role. The U.S. response, in recent times, has been to pass stringent equal housing laws and require compliance. For industry professionals, who have legal guidelines in place requiring them to treat underserved populations fairly, clients with low credit scores and low income can be time-consuming and require education. So how does Brenda walk that line?

"You have to make a conscious decision to choose relationship over commission-ship," she says. "When you have a heart of service, the rest just comes."

Currently, only 46% of Black Americans nationally are homeowners, with Black households being twice as likely as white households to owe student debt, the median amount being $40,000. These statistics, pulled from Grab The Key, a Black homebuyers' Initiative at national mortgage company Movement Mortgage, also show that Black homebuyers are 2.5 times more likely to have their mortgage application rejected than white homebuyers and that Black American households have a 10x lower net worth than their white counterparts.

The Office of Economic Policy in the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently published a three-part blog series on racial disparities in homeownership with similar statistics: In the second quarter of 2022, the homeownership rate for white households was 75 percent compared to 45 percent for Black households, and 48 percent for Hispanic households.

And Brenda doesn't believe it all starts and ends with real estate. Real estate is driven by access, and access starts with a thriving community. That's why she also runs Funding Stages, where local community members can connect with her to start their own businesses, get equipment loans, and everything in between. Brenda says she created Funding Stages to show people they had access to over fifty funding sources, something she says she became interested in when she discovered the alternative lender space.

"Having a clear path to success, knowing the plan of action," she says "is what gets people to where they can start building generational wealth."

Brenda laughs when she thinks about what she would want to tell policymakers to help community members. "Cut the check," she says. "Just do it. Builders aren't going to do this without making money. Can policymakers come up with a plan to get funds to builders to incentivize them to create affordable housing? What land can be developed and turned into affordable housing? There's gotta be a way. Just... cut the check."

In the meantime, you'll find Brenda on the phone, looking for families she can help.

Brenda Dixon, Of Dixon Realty, is ready to see change in her community.Photo byBrenda Dixon

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Barbara Washington is a multilingual investigative journalist based in Willmington, NC.

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