DENVER — In 1951, Jesse and Mary Johnson founded Town and Country Realty (formerly Town and Country Properties) as a way of supporting their six children while providing a valuable service to families of color trying to own a home.
Today, it’s one of the oldest Black-owned real estate firms in Colorado that has stood the test of time for the past 70 years.
“Our goal is to get as many people of color as we can into homes,” said Town and Country Realty broker Shelley Hodge. “We’re more sympathetic for our people because we know if we didn't do that, they would never get anything.”
Hodge is the daughter of the Johnsons and currently runs the family-owned company. She said she started working for her parents when she was just 13 years old making a dollar an hour.
“I was the little go-to person and had to help out,” she said. “I was a jack-of-all-trades then.”
Hodge said Black families felt comfortable coming to her parent’s firm because they trusted her father who would lend them a helping hand when times got tough.
“They would call my dad and say, ‘Mr. Johnson, I’m about to lose my house’ and he says, ‘No problem, we’ll sell that house and get you another one before the credit gets ruined.’”
“Denver was very prejudiced at that time,” said Hodge’s mother Mary Johnson. “At that time, if you sold a home to a Black within a block, the rest of the people would go away.”
Johnson said the main reason she started the company with her husband was because he couldn’t get a job with any other real estate company.
“Although he had all of the qualifications, they really weren’t looking for a Black person at that time, so we just started the business,” she said.
Because Town and Country Realty was one of the only real estate companies giving home loans to families of color, they were often the target of racism.
“The police would come to our house to warn us that they wanted to bomb our house,” Hodge said. “I also remember the Black Panthers, they were there to protect my dad.”
Hodge’s daughter, Muriel Williams-Thompson is also a broker at Town and Country Realty and said as Black professionals, it’s their duty to make sure that the Black community is serviced.
“We’re at 44% Black home ownership across the nation, here in Colorado, we are less than that and so that’s a huge issue.”
Williams-Thompson also serves as president of the Denver chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), a Black real estate group with the goal of equal home ownership for all. She said her grandparent’s company and families of color also faced challenges of redlining.
“Redlining (is) where a bank actually took a red pen and drew a line around the areas where they would not service loans (and) would not give loans in those areas,” she said. “Unfortunately, those areas here in Colorado and across the nation were the predominantly minority areas where Black and Latinos lived.”
For the past 70 years, the company has remained in the family and said they plan on keeping the tradition alive of making the dream of home ownership a reality for all their customers.
“They got into the business because my grandparents had to feed their children, so they found a great way to be able to do that,” said Williams-Thompson, “But, they also found a way to make the American dream obtainable for the Black community.”
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