Skip to content

Montia Brock, a professional counselor, stands outside her home in the Hill District, a house she bought with closing cost assistance from a group of philanthropic women committed to increasing Black home ownership. Her house is next door to her grandmother’s, where she spent much of her youth. She hopes that going through the process of buying her own home serves as an example for her 21 nieces and nephews and three godchildren.

Image by Joshua Franzos

The Next Steps Fund

Donors and Foundation grantee partner to change lives and encourage giving
by Deanna Garcia

Montia Brock and Jennifer McDowell have never met, but the two are connected. Last year, Brock purchased her first home and part of her closing costs were provided by Catapult Greater Pittsburgh’s Next Steps Fund, which was seeded by McDowell and some of her friends.

McDowell has a donor-advised fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation and is part of the Women Donors Network, a national organization working toward creating a more just, equitable and sustainable world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, McDowell began meeting virtually with a group of Pittsburgh-area women in the network, some of whom also have donor-advised funds at the Foundation. After much discussion about societal issues, they decided to focus their giving on reparations, which first meant learning what that means.

“We took online courses, listened to numerous podcasts, read books, spoke with Black women in Pittsburgh about projects they are working on and spoke to a friend who happens to be a Black realtor. It took a while to learn and to figure out where these dollars should go,” says McDowell.

Aligning with The Pittsburgh Foundation’s strategic plan’s focus on the areas of economic mobility and racial equity, the group decided to concentrate on home ownership. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Black people are less likely than white people to own their own homes.

The mortgage company Lending Tree reports from a national survey that Black people in Pittsburgh’s metro area make up 7.5% of the 2.35 million population, yet own fewer than 4% of the homes. White residents make up 83% of the population and own 91% of the homes.

Home ownership is a way to create generational wealth, but many Black families have been kept out of the housing market by racist practices or, if they did buy homes, were not given resources or support to keep them in their homes and neighborhoods. McDowell was selling her Mt. Lebanon home and wanted the profit to go toward helping a Black family.

Through their networking, the women met Tammy Thompson, the executive director of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, which offers community services intended to build generational wealth including aid to potential homebuyers. The women talked with Pittsburgh Foundation staff about Thompson’s work and learned that Catapult was a vital grantee. Thompson had been wanting to start a program to help Black first-time homebuyers with closing costs, which are sometimes the only barrier to buying a house, but securing funding was proving difficult. When McDowell and her friends heard Thompson’s idea, it was an easy choice — they gave an initial gift of $250,000 to start the Next Steps Fund.

This wouldn’t exist without these donors. They started something that has impacted many families, and because their funding enabled us to leverage more funds to grow the program, it will hopefully continue for years to come.

Tammy Thompson Executive Director, Catapult Greater Pittsburgh

“This wouldn’t exist without these donors,” says Thompson. “They started something that has impacted many families, and because their funding enabled us to leverage more funds to grow the program, it will hopefully continue for years to come.”

The Next Steps Fund has helped 50 families buy homes in the Pittsburgh area. Brock was among the first, with the fund helping with the closing costs on her three-story home in the Sugar Top section of the Hill District. The professional counselor had saved money for a down payment, taken first-time homebuyer courses and knew she wanted to buy the house next door to her grandmother’s. When Brock last lived at her grandmother’s house, five generations were under the roof. She needed just under $5,000 to seal the deal, and the Next Steps Fund gave her a check that she took to her closing.

“I come from a family of homeowners. I have a huge extended family, and a lot of us are in the Hill District, a lot of us in Sugar Top,” she says. “The reason I know my fourth and fifth cousins is because they’ve maintained homeownership in the same community, so that was very important to me.”

For The Pittsburgh Foundation, this story and these relationships showcase the power of individual giving, partnerships and community support.

“Our donors have so many options when it comes to how to use their funds, and it’s amazing when the pieces fall together like they have with the Next Steps Fund,” says Lindsay Aroesty, vice president of development and donor services. “The excitement of everyone involved is palpable, and it is a wonderful example of how individual giving inspires others, resulting in large impacts that are good for the community.”

Thompson wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s been a blessing,” she says, “to be able to see what can happen when people decide that they want to do something. It shows the power that individuals have in making a difference in a lot of these social issues that we have. To me, the individual grassroots philanthropists are making and have the potential to make such a huge difference.”

Deanna Garcia is a communications officer at The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Homeowners in Pittsburgh Metro Region, by Race

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data