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New doc explores how gay marriage battle went down last year in Md.

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Yoruba Richen, The New Black, Kennedy Center, Gay News, Washington Blade
Yoruba Richen, The New Black, Kennedy Center, Gay News, Washington Blade

Yoruba Richen, director/producer of ‘The New Black.’ (Photo by Luke Rattray; courtesy the filmmakers)

‘The New Black’
AFI Docs
Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Goethe-Institute
812 7th St., N.W.Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd.
Silver Spring, MD
$13
afi.com/afidocs

One of the big debates with reality TV is the inevitable degree to which the camera’s presence affects the way people act. It’s unquantifiable, of course, but it’s also a challenge for documentary filmmakers.

Yoruba Richen says she knew it would be hard to capture the kind of exchanges she wanted to get in her film “The New Black,” a piece that explores both last year’s battle for Maryland Question 6, a referendum question that won 52 percent of the vote last November to uphold same-sex marriage rights there, but also the larger issue of how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights and the degree to which many feel it’s comparable to the civil rights struggle. The roughly 80-minute documentary screens twice this weekend as part of the AFI Docs (formerly Silverdocs) festival that continues through Sunday.

Two such exchanges especially stand out — one Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of National Black Justice Coalition, has with anti-gay family members at her husband’s (she’s an LGBT ally) retirement party and the tear-laced discussion 24-year-old lesbian Karess Taylor-Hughes has coming out to her religious foster mother.

Richen says both took a delicate approach.

“It’s hard,” she says during a phone interview from her Brooklyn home. “It’s really hard. You can’t just come in with lights and 5,000 people. You try to be as spare as you can. Like at that barbecue, it was just me and a camera person, that’s it. And there has to be a level of trust there. At that point with Sharon, we had already been filming for two years and the same with Karess. But there can be an advantage too because I think that for us, especially in the African-American community, we don’t always get a chance to share our stories so there can be a level of comfort and excitement that we are getting to talk about this issue. Also I think the fact that I’m black and there was another black person doing the filming helped everybody be a little more comfortable as well.”

Richen, a lesbian, met Lettman-Hicks at an LGBT conference in Dallas in 2010 and quickly recognized her as an ideal vehicle to explore the issues of race and sexuality that had been haunting her since many blamed blacks for California’s Prop. 8 ballot measure in 2008, the success of which overturned same-sex marriage rights there. After starting the project, she started to see Maryland — where gay marriage hadn’t yet bubbled to the surface when the project began — as a strong microcosm for the issues the entire country is dealing with at the intersection of race and religion.

Lettman-Hicks says she gave her family and her husband’s family a “heads up” before the film crew arrived. About three people opted out and said they didn’t want to be filmed.

She says she was happy to put herself and her family out there — even ones who aren’t politically on the same page with her — because she sensed the ultimate effect the piece could have.

“I came to LGBT activism later in life,” Lettman-Hicks says. “But my husband and I are both humanitarians and this is our passion, to make the black family whole again and stronger. These are just my brothers and sisters and these conversations are long overdue. Too many people have been harmed, both directly and indirectly, and the underlying issues stem much deeper.”

Samathan Master, a 25-year-old Columbia, Md., resident who identifies as a black queer femme, got involved with the project through her partner Kandice Fields, who is friends with Taylor-Hughes. She has worked with Equality Maryland and Human Rights Campaign and knocked on doors for Question 6 last year. She says she was happy to participate because the issue is loaded with history and baggage.

“Any conversation around sexuality and the black community is met with trepidation,” Master says. “I don’t really think black folks are any more or less homophobic than their white counterparts, but I think the way black people have dealt with sexuality since the days of slavery has been to not talk about it so then you have this movement and this thrust of LGBT equality and people coming out, right, so … there ends up being all this baggage we’ve carried with us century after century but it’s always been very quiet baggage and now that people are out and talking about it, there’s been an attempt to silence something that we’ve always known has existed but never really been vocal about.”

Refreshingly, though, “The New Black” isn’t just an LGBT propaganda machine. Anti-gay ministers such as Bishop Harry Jackson are interviewed in the film. Less notoriously, though, is one of its key figures — Pastor Derek McCoy, president of Maryland Family Alliance and associate pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.

Richen says even though McCoy worked against Question 6 (and thus against same-sex marriage), she says her integrity as a documentarian necessitated the inclusion of other voices.

“He worked with me and I’m very grateful he did,” Richen says. “I really did my best to let them present their stories and their truth and they didn’t ask me a lot up front about my personal positions.”

Richen and her crew shot more than 100 hours of footage over a three-year period wrapping last November. Had Question 6 failed, she’s not sure she would have ended the story when she did though it ended up giving the ending a celebratory feel. She followed several key participants through Election Day. Richen won’t say how much the film cost to make but says she had support from PBS, Tribeca, Sundance, the Gill Foundation and several other entities. She says it came in the normal range — under $1 million, which is normal for a project of this scope.

Lettman-Hicks says viewers are in for a treat and that watching the film recently at its Los Angeles premiere was a powerful experience.

“It was all done with a lot of integrity,” she says. “There wasn’t one thing in there where I was like, ‘What’s that in there for?’ … A lot of it is reflective of my day-to-day life. Some of these conversations we’re having, that’s a day at work for me, but what was really a surprise was watching some of the young people. I was so touched by Samantha and Karess’s courage out there canvassing the streets in Baltimore. I was just so, so proud.”

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Real Estate

Help! I bought a house in the pandemic and winter is coming!

Insulate pipes, locate the water main and more to get ready

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Winter is coming, so prepare your home now.

So you bought a home in the pandemic and now you need to get it ready for winter?  What do you need to be thinking of as the colder months approach? Well, the majority of insurance claims in winter months revolve around broken or busted water pipes. It’s a good idea to know where the main water shut off in your house is, in case you have an emergency. You can also buy pipe insulation that is not too expensive to wrap around exposed pipes.  

Another area of the home that is good to consider is the windows. If you swap out screens for storm windows that gives an extra pane of glass to provide protection from the cold winter air. Screens can go back on in the springtime.

The roof is another area – if you know that any roof tiles are loose, you are going to want to fix those before any large snowstorms, so that any ice or snow doesn’t further loosen the tile and expose your roof to moisture when the snow and ice melts. Make sure the fireplace is ready for winter by having a chimneysweep check it out and also make sure the cap is in place to keep animals out of it.

It’s a good idea to service your HVAC twice a year. Once in the fall, after it has worked hard all summer to cool the house, and right before it works hard again to keep the house warm for the winter. The second time is in the spring when it has just finished the winter’s hard work and is getting ready for round two in the summer. 

Lastly, go outside and inspect the gutters – clean them and double check that they are sturdy and able to handle the fall leaves, or have covers that keep them from getting full from leaves.  I spent a good part of my childhood on a ladder cleaning out the gutters!  It’s how my Mom got me out of the house.  And while you are outside, check trees for vulnerable branches that might snap if there is a heavy snow or ice storm and get those trimmed so they don’t fall onto the house.

Have a great autumn! 

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597. Scott Leidner is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 443-670-2165.

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Real Estate

Fall market brings mortgage options

Find a loan you can afford with guidelines that make sense

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Fall has normally been the second major season for housing purchases and sales.

One effect of COVID-19 has been to throw us off schedule in the normal seasonal nature of real estate sales. At long last, however, we’re beginning to see its return. 

Traditionally throughout the nation, spring begins in late March or April and is the most popular time of year for buying and selling homes. In the DMV, however, spring comes early – as early as February – and the market begins to heat up as what little snow we get dissipates.

Summer has usually seen interest wane, while house hunting takes a back seat to vacations, summer camp, and participation in barbecues, family gatherings, and other outdoor activities and celebrations.

Fall has normally been the second major season for housing purchases and sales, ranging from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. Thereafter, during the winter market, people begin to plan for holidays and, although houses sell well when adorned with holiday decorations, the fall market may be better suited to allowing for settlements prior to the end of the tax year.

Even though housing inventory remained low, we saw homes in some areas take slightly longer to sell during July and August. In addition, instead of 20 competitors for a single home in a popular area, there might be only five to 10.

Still, in the past two weeks, I have seen activity on my client portals, where buyers receive information about homes that are new to the market, jump exponentially from two or three a week to the same amount in a day.  

With businesses and government agencies continuing to promote remote work, more people are realizing that they need to revamp their existing homes to accommodate office space or purchase new homes with an extra room or two for that purpose. It’s not mini-mansions they want or even a 10/10 on Room Rater or Zoom, just a carved out, quiet space with a door to keep out the household noise.

Interest rates remain low and loan guidelines are not as strict as they were post-2005, with new loan programs available for a variety of situations. If you already own a home and have significant equity and good credit, refinancing your current mortgage might be just what you need to cut costs, eliminate private mortgage insurance, renovate your current space, buy a new residence, or invest in a second home or rental property. 

For example, I bought my current home six years ago with a first mortgage at 4.125% and a second mortgage at 5.75%, both good rates for a 5% down purchase at the time. This past spring, I consolidated those into a single loan at 2.875%, saving roughly $600 per month to put toward bills, renovations, unforeseen home repairs, retirement, and a little bit of just plain fun.

Want to pay off your home faster? If you make just one additional payment of principal on your loan annually, you can pay off a traditional 30-year loan earlier and save several years of interest. A 15-year mortgage is another option. 

As of Sept. 22nd, NerdWallet showed the nationwide average interest rate for a 15-year mortgage to be 2.169%, compared with 2.904% for a 30-year note. Your monthly payment will be higher when the loan is shortened to 15 years, but you will save thousands in interest over the life of the loan. Just remember that quoted rates may not take into consideration how your credit, debts, and equity affect your ability to borrow.

For those looking for an investment property, your income and credit may allow you to refinance and use any excess cash from your equity to start your career as a landlord. This can be an excellent retirement program or savings account for college, since a tenant pays your mortgage.

According to Karen Guess of HomeFirst Mortgage, lending rules now allow a 15% down payment from your own funds (no gifts), rather than the 20% that was previously the standard. A credit score of 620 gets you started and 75% of the average rental income reported in the area can be credited as an asset based on an appraisal of the property. The current interest rate is only 3.5%, but rates can fluctuate daily, so always check with your lender to be sure you have the most current information.

No matter what your need, financing is not what it was in the early 2000s, when lenders wrote pre-approval letters on cocktail napkins and everyone was eligible for a no-documentation, “fake news” mortgage. Contact your loan officer for a mortgage you can afford with guidelines that make sense.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs

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Real Estate

Nationwide housing trends: A look back at 2021 and ahead to 2022

After overheated year and low interest rates, a cooler market to come?

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Low inventory and interest rates made 2021 a seller’s year.

For many potential homebuyers, 2021 was a difficult year in the real estate market. Finding a home that you love at the right price – and having an offer accepted at or around the asking price, in some markets, seemed nearly impossible. On the opposite side of the coin, for sellers, 2021 was a year that, for many, meant multiple offers above the asking price, record sales prices, and the chance to make significant profits. According to a recent Forbes article, cities across the country saw rocketing sales prices – which made for some frazzled home buyers – and some very happy sellers. 

A review of housing trends in a few of the country’s larger and popular LGBTQ-friendly cities prove that this is true. 

• In New York City, the average home sale price was $429,288 in 2020 while the average list price was $579,667 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of approximately 3.3%.

• The Los Angeles area saw an average sale price of $674,395 in 2020 and an average list price of $864,998 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of 5.49%.

• In Seattle, the average home sale price in 2020 was $512,046 while the average list price in 2021 was $651,648, indicating an increase in average sales price of around 6.7%.

• Denver indicated an average home sale price in 2020 of $433,268 and an average list price in 2021 of $526,633, reflecting an increase in average sale price of around 4.40%. 

• San Francisco saw rising prices too, with the average home sale price in 2020 coming in and around $811,787, and the average list price in 2021 being $872,296, marking an increase in average sale price of 2.31% over the course of the year.

From a nationwide perspective, real estate statistics gathered over the course of the last year indicate that the average home sale price between February 2020 and February 2021 was $264,300 across the 97 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States and that the average list price during the same time was $301,389. Moreover, on average, cities across the country reflected a year-over-year increase in home sale prices from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 at 5.43 percent.

Without question, 2021 saw skyrocketing prices in most major cities and fierce competition for available homes. Mortgage rates are low, and supply has also been somewhat low, increasing demand even more in most cities across the country. Although the market is still certainly a seller’s market, there are some signs here and there that it is beginning to cool down a bit, and that 2022 may see a more even playing field. Indeed, recent reports have indicated that housing inventory is beginning to increase, which will mean more options for buyers, and thus, less competition per home, and a wider selection of homes to choose from. 

While this appears to be likely, many experts are finding it unlikely that the market will turn completely.  It is thus not expected that 2022 will be a buyer’s market per se, but simply that the market will be slightly more balanced overall. Mortgage rates and financing generally are expected to remain favorable, which will also enhance the buying power of those looking to make a home purchase. While home prices are expected to rise, it’s generally assumed by financial experts that they will rise at a slower and more reasonable rate for buyers than they did this year. Ultimately, then, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, 2022 looks to be a promising year.

Without question, for much of the country, 2021 was an excellent time to sell a home, and perhaps a more difficult time to buy the one you loved at the price you wanted to pay. While that is currently the case, it’s important to remember that the truth about the real estate market is that it’s ever-changing. Trends can change from year to year or even month to month. That’s why it’s important, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, to connect with a real estate agent who understands those trends, and who can help you determine the best strategies to reach your real estate goals. 

At www.GayRealEstate.com, that’s where we come in. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced, LGBTQ-friendly agents who know and love their communities, and who are dedicated to helping their clients achieve their dreams. Having the right agent can make the difference between a smooth and successful real estate experience and a stressful one – and you deserve the best. We’re here to help you find it. Get in touch with us any time – we look forward to helping you soon.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or  [email protected].

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