Harriet Hawkins, broker-owner of iGoldenOne Realty in Upper Marlboro, Md., knows firsthand how owning a home can change a family’s story.
During the Great Migration, when 6 million Black Americans left the South and relocated to urban areas in the northern U.S., her grandmother and great aunt Leola Tobin, made the trek from South Carolina to Washington D.C. The two women worked as housekeepers with dreams of homeownership.
Eventually, Ms. Tobin, along with her husband, saved enough money—around $13,000 back then—to buy a house.
Hawkins’ family still owns the home Ms. Tobin purchased so many years ago.
“In this day and time, to still have a home in your family in the Southeast quadrant of D.C., right by the Capitol, is phenomenal,” says Hawkins.
The location of the property, however, pales in comparison to the impact homeownership itself has had on Hawkins’ family.
“It’s a part of the history and a legacy for our family members,” she says. “A lot of the family members say that Aunt Leola provided the Underground Railroad for them to have a better life in D.C. Her door was always open.”
In 1998, Hawkins had her own experience with the power of homeownership when she and her then-husband bought their first house, “completely by accident.”
“I was looking up an ad for rent-to-own, and the agent called me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about owning a home?’ I thought it was a joke.”
She was in her late 20s at the time and had four children. She and her husband made about $50,000 between them and had little faith that they’d be homeowners anytime in the near future. Still, they went through the process of gaining approval, and to their surprise, they qualified.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was the best feeling ever knowing that I had a home for my children.”
Then, in the early 2000s, Hawkins’ life changed in unforeseen ways. She and her husband decided to divorce. Her position of employment changed as well. Hawkins was working as a video teleconferencing engineer and manager for the local Navy base in Maryland. Her job, she says, was to help aid the navy and the Department of Defense in communicating over secured lines.
“After 9/11, the demand for my position became essential, so I was considered an essential employee and was basically on call nonstop,” she says. “At the same time, I was going through a divorce, having to pay a mortgage on my own, and had a son going to college.”
Hawkins turned to real estate to help her maintain the quality of life she and her children were used to.
With so many responsibilities requiring her attention, obtaining her real estate license took some time, Hawkins says, but she refused to quit.
In October 2005, Hawkins started the real estate course for the third and final time, and by November of the same year, she was licensed. She signed with her first brokerage, EXIT Powerhouse Realty, and by January 2006, she was closing her first deal.
It was then that Hawkins realized she’d found purpose in her work.
“I just want better for other people,” she says. “Real estate is purposeful work and I’m vested in this because it’s something that I’ve lived. Home is where the foundation starts. It’s a sacred place where we build our families and find stability.
The Path of Leadership
Right now, Hawkins is having a full-circle moment. Through her brokerage, she’s helping others find stability and safety through homeownership. She’s providing to others the same thing her great aunt provided within her family.
“It’s so interesting to think of it in that way, but I’m carrying on what she and my grandmother started.”
When she started out in real estate, Hawkins says she never dreamed of owning her own brokerage, but about eight years in, she found that it was exactly what she wanted to do.
“I wanted to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren,” she says.
For Hawkins, the legacy she leaves isn’t just about the money, though. Channeling the spirit of the strong women who came before her, Hawkins is focused on a wide-reaching impact.
“I’m an advocate,” she says. “My goal is to help people understand the value of homeownership and help people who never thought they’d be able to own a home.”
Creating Change in the Community
She’s been advocating for others to find the value in homeownership ever since that first purchase back in 1998, she says. Her advocacy extends outside the realm of homeownership though, as she’s also vested in the overall health of her community, which, she says, starts with having a home at all.
“Our (brokerage) goals are to help people become homeowners and at the same time, doing what we can to eradicate homelessness.”
Homelessness in the DMV, and especially in Washington D.C., is a big issue. In D.C. alone, homelessness is twice that of the national average.
Hawkins started a nonprofit called Housing and Beyond and works in partnership with other nonprofits to take care of the homeless and advocate for their needs. Right now, she says that means feeding the homeless on Saturdays, providing them clothing, and helping them get set up with the essentials once they are able to find shelter.
She’s also looking forward to new solutions.
“A couple years ago I went to a D.C. housing fair and met with a builder specializing in tiny homes. I think that might be a solution for homelessness and I want to work on providing the funds to build housing for the homeless because seeing these people in tents is deplorable.”
For Hawkins, stable housing is the pivotal step that can lead to a better life, which is something she learned from Aunt Leola. Using all the tools at her disposal and building a community-focused business, she carries on the legacy of those who came before her.