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What do you know about Special Field Order 15?

What do you know about Special Field Order 15? And how has it informed HomeSight’s new project, the Field Order 15 Fund?

A ‘Q&A’ with HomeSight’s Darryl Smith and Uche Okezie

In 1865, as the smoke from the Civil War cannons cleared, the leaders of the battered nation faced their next critical challenge: how would millions of newly freed Black Americans transition from a brutal and barbaric system of enslavement to participating in American life as free citizens?

General Sherman’s Special Field Order 15 addressed this challenge, offering a way forward that offered Black people a stake in the nation’s future. The order redistributed 400,000 acres of captured confederate land to the people who had been enslaved by Southern landowners. Each Black family would receive, in Sherman’s words, “40 acres and a mule.”

President Lincoln approved the orders, but after his assassination, Special Field Order 15, and its promise for equity and opportunity, would be reversed and buried beneath decades of explicitly racist laws that effectively and efficiently marginalized Black Americans. The country’s new leaders chose instead to carry forward the legacy of slavery, forcing generations of Black Americans to fight for every human right, and for every small piece of the American dream, in a system rigged against them.

This year, HomeSight and Black Home Initiative (BHI) revived the memory and intention of Special Field Order 15 by launching the Field Order 15 Fund. For Black History Month, Executive Director Darryl Smith and Real Estate Director Uche Okezie answered questions about the fund, its historical roots, and its anticipated impact for the future.

Why does the Field Order 15 Fund reference this moment in American history?

Darryl: We chose to reference Special Field Order 15 because we wanted this reparative lending program to fulfill this abandoned equity promise. The program provides upfront grant money, low-interest lending, and technical support for Black developers who are building affordable homes in the communities that need these resources most. We want to give Black developers a role and a voice in creating the much-needed housing for the community. We wanted the Field Order 15 Fund to ‘pick up the reins’ that had been dropped for so long, to start to fulfill Sherman’s order.

Uche: We’re taking a community-centric approach to increasing Black homeownership, giving Black builders a seat at the table and an opportunity to grow their businesses while breaking the barriers to Black homeownership, caused by this long history of unmet promises and racist barriers to affordable housing. That history started with the reversal of Special Field Order 15. There are so few BIPOC developers in our community who need and deserve an opportunity to create wealth. It helps them build their businesses, while helping to create wealth in their communities.

How does it work?

Uche: Field Order 15 provides low-interest lending and funding for Black developers, but it’s more than that. We looked at the pain points for developers: how they raised initial capital for feasibility; how they accessed low-interest, non-recourse lending. Then we used our own knowledge and experience to line up help with planning and resources. At HomeSight, we have decades of organizational experience building affordable homes, and we realized we could leverage this experience, as well as resources. We’ve seen how plans can change or city regulations can be challenging. All kinds of things can happen during a construction project. We want to set Black developers up for success to get them from ‘point A’ to construction financing. We developed the Field Order 15 Fund checklist system to help developers go step by step. It builds success into the process.

What are your goals for this project?
What issues are you hoping to address?

Darryl: We’re addressing a deeply rooted problem here, racial inequity, on several fronts. First, western Washington is experiencing a severe housing shortage, particularly affordable housing. Second, Black homeownership in Washington is staggeringly low. It’s worse today than it was in the days before the Fair Housing Act. We’ve not been doing a good enough job in the housing sector, or as a community, and we need to correct that. We hope the fund will help developers not just grow their businesses but produce up to 500 units of housing that will be available for community members to purchase, to begin their journey to generational wealth that can be passed down, and really help the community grow and prosper.

That’s really what this is all about because now, the disparity in homeownership for Black Washingtonians is about half of their White counterparts. That didn’t happen by accident. That happened on purpose because of redlining, because of racist covenants, and because opportunities for purchasing homes around the state have not been equally shared.

So we’re addressing both sides of the coin: working with Black developers to grow their businesses to produce the units that are needed, while at the same time getting folks on the path to homeownership with homebuyer education, down payment assistance, and closing cost help. If we can bring all that together, we will start to – start to – address the racial wealth divide here in Washington state. The idea of ’40 acres and a mule,’ is really about equal opportunity. It’s about creating equity.

HomeSight’s Uche Okezie Wants to Put Co-Ops on the Map in Seattle

HomeSight’s Uche Okezie Wants to Put Co-Ops on the Map in Seattle

Okezie joined the Remarkable Credit Union podcast to share how HomeSight’s housing co-op project, ʔúləx̌(U-lex) @ Othello Square, can keep community members from being displaced – and create a stronger community.

People may not be familiar with the word ‘ʔúləx̌’ – it’s the Lushootseed word for ‘gather’ – but the word ‘co-op’ should be in every Seattle homebuyer’s vocabulary, HomeSight’s Real Estate Development Director Uche Okezie told the hosts of the Remarkable Credit Union podcast last week.

Okezie joined the podcast to talk about HomeSight’s partnership with Verity Credit Union and how it helped bring the U-lex @ Othello Square project to fruition. Tina Narron, the Chief Lending Officer at Verity Credit Union, joined the discussion as well.

Hosted by Pixelspoke CEO Cameron Madill and Pixelspoke Senior Marketing Manager Kerala Taylor, the podcast is geared to “help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology, and community impact.” 

The hosts asked Okezie and Narron: “Why a co-op?”

Okezie, who has worked at HomeSight for over 20 years, said the changing homeownership climate played a major role in HomeSight’s decision to bring the limited equity cooperative (or LEC) model to Seattle.

Since HomeSight began working to help people purchase homes 30 years ago, “things have been changing in Seattle,” Okezie explained. “Land is more expensive. [HomeSight] typically relied on down-payment assistance to help income-qualified folks purchase homes, but there’s just not enough to cover the gap in affordability between what they can afford and what the market says they have to pay in order to purchase it.”

Okezie said an LEC provided “another pathway to provide that level of affordability.”

Sometimes described as the ‘first rung’ of the ladder to homeownership, co-ops, said Okezie, “everyone who is a resident in the building is a part owner of the building. They have bought shares and that gives them the right to live in their unit for however long they own their shares. It gives each household, or member, a vote in all the building operations. Whether it’s the budget, or the board members — who are elected community members – their share gives them a vote on what happens with their building and in their community, and that community is the building.”

Okezie said community is a significant difference between condo ownership and co-op ownership. “Because everybody owns the building cooperatively, they all have a vested interest in its destiny, its future, and they have the right to communicate that to their fellow members, the people that they all share this asset with,” said Okezie. “You aren’t going to have your own mortgage, you’re helping to collectively build wealth, the asset of the building that you all live in and share.”

Narron said Verity Credit Union jumped in at the beginning of the project, when HomeSight invited all members of the Othello community to sit down and discuss their needs. “HomeSight did a really good job of hearing all of that, gathering all of that data, [and] coming up with plans,” Narron said.

Podcast host Madill commented that while Othello Square is a “truly innovative initiative,” it “alone won’t solve the affordable housing crisis in Seattle.” She asked Okezie and Narron: “How do you hope the project might help change the narrative when it comes to affordable housing solutions?”

“I think our biggest stumbling block here has been that it’s just not a common model,” said Okezie. “It’s rare in Seattle. I would love for this to be something that was completely normalized and another option for people.”

Narron agreed and said the LEC model presented an opportunity for credit unions to normalize the unique elements of this mortgage product. “We’re looking at this as a pilot for the West Coast because this might be another viable option to help, not necessarily solve, but help with solving that affordable ownership problem that we’re running into. Cost is out of control, inventory is so small, financing is so difficult. We push the American dream, but how do we help people actually achieve it?”

Okezie said that dream can be realized for more people with “more co-ops, more limited equity co-ops, and more demand for these units” in the new year. She wants co-op ownership to be “just as commonplace as saying: ‘I’m going to go buy a condo.’”

Listen to the Verity Credit Union Podcast here.

U-lex @ Othello Square has opened applications to income-qualified buyers. Situated at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Holly Park Drive, U-lex will offer 68 units affordable to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income at the time of purchase. To be eligible, purchasers must have a household income 80 percent or less than the area’s median income by household size, and be first-time homebuyers or have not owned a home in the past three years. Learn more about U-lex here.

Is the American Dream of Homeownership Out of Reach?

Is the American Dream of Homeownership Out of Reach?

NPR’s SoundSide posed this question to a panel joined by HomeSight’s Executive Director Darryl Smith and all agreed change is long overdue. (… and HomeSight has innovative solutions to unveil in the coming year.)

Last week, HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith joined a panel with NPR’s SoundSide to discuss homeownership in Washington. Host Libby Denkman said the unfavorable climate for first-time homebuyers – created in part by 7.5% interest rates and housing home prices jumping 40 percent since the pandemic – left many feeling “shut out” of this traditional path to generational wealth stability.

A $750,000 median price for a starter home in King County puts homeownership out of reach for a lot of people, Smith said, adding that he bought his first Seattle home with his wife over 20 years ago for just $99,000.

Times are tough now for millennials who want to become homeowners, Denkman said, and Smith pointed out that for people of color, this situation is far from new: homeownership was deliberately placed out of reach through legal channels for hundreds of years.

“It’s easy to think this is a new problem and it used to be easier across the board for people to buy homes, but frankly, that isn’t true for everyone,” Smith said. “Redlining and other laws shut out people of color from the advantages of homeownership, explicitly excluding them from ways families build wealth, pay for college, start businesses or deal with a health catastrophe. In many areas, the government played a direct role in creating this ecosystem of housing disparity, and it’s led to a wealth gap that’s only getting wider.”

Because it is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with a mission to help low- and moderate-income families secure mortgages, HomeSight can offer programs such as down payment assistance or reduced down payment requirements. “Unlike commercial lenders, we’re governed by the Department of Financial Institution, but we have that mission, that drive, to navigate the challenges our clients face,” said Smith. “That’s what we do. It’s incredibly important work.”

But out-of-reach housing costs represent only part of the problem, and the panel also discussed the housing shortage.

“First-time homebuyers are seeing fewer and fewer choices in their price range,” Smith said. “There’s this critical gap between what someone can afford and what’s actually out there.”

Smith said that as a developer of affordable housing, HomeSight is bringing an innovative solution to this challenge. Next year, HomeSight hopes to break ground on a co-operative housing development, U-lex @ Othello Square for low- and middle-income families in south Seattle. Situated next to the light rail station at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Holly Park Drive, U-lex will offer 68 units affordable to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income at the time of purchase.

“If you look at housing as rungs on a ladder, and you see people that cannot reach that lowest rung, we’ve got to put rungs within reach,” said Smith. “For many low- and middle-income people in Washington, even a so-called ‘starter house’ is too big a leap to get into the real estate market. With a co-op like U-lex, people can start building equity at a much lower price point than you’d find in this housing market. U-lex is creating the first few rungs on the ladder, so people can start the climb to the true financial stability homeowning allows.” 

Smith said HomeSight has also joined more than 80 partners in the regional housing community to form the Black Home Initiative, which has a goal of creating 1,500 new black homeowners in the next five years. “This is a big problem, and we need everyone at the table to find solutions and create strategies to solve this. Housing isn’t just one issue, it’s several. We need to make changes in the way we do appraisals, zoning, land use, construction financing and lending.”  

BHI’s goal is to “make sure we can offer opportunity to as many families as possible, particularly to those who have been denied in the past,” said Smith. “This approach lifts everybody up, not just the people we help directly, but whole neighborhoods. Looking at this holistically is the key to creating a healthy ecosystem. We all do better when we all do better.”

HomeSight Leader Darryl Smith Appointed to Covenant Homeownership Program Oversight Committee

HomeSight Leader Darryl Smith Appointed to Covenant Homeownership Program Oversight Committee

HomeSight’s Executive Director Darryl Smith was selected this month by Governor Inslee to serve on the Covenant Homeownership Program (CHP) Oversight Committee.

HomeSight, a nonprofit catalyst for equitable homeownership and economic opportunity, worked to pass the legislation that created the CHP, a first-in-the-nation program that aims to repair the economic damage caused by generations of racially discriminatory housing policies.

Smith, working in partnership with the Black Home Initiative Network and the Housing Development Consortium, testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee in favor of the legislation that created the program.

“So many people and organizations, including HomeSight, worked so hard to bring the Covenant Homeownership Act to fruition,” said Smith. “I’m honored by this opportunity to help ensure the CHP makes a profound impact on black homeownership in Washington state.”

The CHP, administered through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, creates a special purpose credit program for down payment and closing cost assistance for demographic groups shown to have experienced economic damage from discriminatory housing practices.

In his appointed role, Smith will ensure the program works efficiently and effectively to create new black homeowners in Washington.

“The foundation for generational wealth building is rooted in home ownership,” said Smith. “In being denied that opportunity, generations of people of color have been largely shut out from the benefits afforded by owning a home such as starting a business, sending a kid to college, and even surviving a financial emergency due to a health challenge. The CHP is a critical first step toward acknowledging the harm caused by racist covenant laws and practices and working to reverse the impact of this history.”

How to build your credit

How to build your credit

Dear HomeSight:

I don’t have a credit score. How do I build enough credit so I can get a loan?

Having no credit score isn’t necessarily a bad thing—but it can prevent you from qualifying for certain loans. Your credit score is a number that reflects how well you manage your debt and pay your bills. The higher your score, the more likely you are to qualify for loans and credit cards with good terms and low interest rates.

Whether you’re young, new to the United States, don’t have recent credit activity, or have what’s called a “thin” credit file, there are ways to turn no credit into good credit. Here are suggestions from HomeSight’s HUD-certified homebuyer education specialists:

  • Get a secured credit card. This is a type of credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral. The deposit acts as your credit limit and protects the card issuer if you default on your payments. You can use a secured card like a regular card to make purchases and pay them off every month. This way, you demonstrate your ability to use credit responsibly and build your credit history. A secured card can also help lower your credit use ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit that you use. A lower ratio is better for your score and shows that you are not relying too much on debt. If you’re in college, you might also qualify for a college-student credit card, which helps young adults establish credit.

  • Become an authorized user. Another way to build credit is by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account, such as a family member or a friend. As an authorized user, you can use the card to make purchases, but you are not legally responsible for paying the bill. The primary account holder’s payment history, credit limit and balance will be reported to the credit bureaus under your name as well. This can help you boost your score and lengthen your credit history, as long as the account is in good standing.

  • Apply for a credit builder loan. Unlike a regular loan, you don’t get the money upfront with a credit builder loan. Instead, the lender deposits the loan amount into a savings account that you can access only after you pay off the loan in full. The lender reports your payments to the credit bureaus, which helps you establish a positive payment history. A credit-builder loan can also diversify your credit mix, which is the variety of credit accounts you have. Having different types of credit can improve your score and show you can handle different kinds of debt.

  • Get a co-signer. If you have a family member with established credit, they can co-sign a loan for you. This is risky for the co-signer, because he or she is fully responsible for paying off the loan. Failure to pay on your part could hurt the co-signer’s credit—and jeopardize your relationship.
  • Contact HomeSight to speak with one of our HUD-certified counselors. This is a free service we provide as a nonprofit lender and CDFI, and we are committed to helping every member of our community prosper. HomeSight is here to help you assess your financial present and navigate a plan for a secure future for you and your family. A credit counselor can help you go over your credit options and can help you create a personalized plan to help you take the lead in your financial life. Another bonus: speaking with a counselor and completing our free homebuyer education classes qualifies you to apply for HomeSight’s non-traditional credit offerings and down payment assistance programs. We specialize in helping borrowers with limited credit find the loans they need to achieve their financial goals. Education is power. Contact one of our helpful staff members today!

Two Windermere agents walked into HomeSight

Two Windermere agents walked into HomeSight...

Volunteers + HomeSight = Impact

In summer 2020, as the nation reeled from the double blow of the pandemic and the civic unrest following the murder of George Floyd and others, two real estate agents at Windermere reached out to HomeSight. These agents didn’t know one another, but they were thinking the same thoughts at the same time.

These agents had seen the toll racial inequality had taken in their field and wanted to make a difference for the Black community, whose ability to build wealth through homeownership was hampered by the generation-spanning legacy of slavery. Despite COVID’s impact on their own finances, they both reached out individually to HomeSight to ask how they could help Black families with their down payments.

HomeSight was the right door to knock. Loan originators at HomeSight were witnessing the growth of a new type of housing crisis. Despite being eligible and able to afford a mortgage, moderate-income families who earned too much to qualify for assistance were increasingly unable to reach the down payment.

HomeSight lenders wanted to increase down-payment assistance to these families. A relatively small investment upfront could completely change the trajectory of a family, and a community, for generations to come.

As a real estate agent, Paige Dumler had a front-row seat to the soaring cost of starter homes in Washington. She saw as prices soared increasingly out of reach for first-time homebuyers, especially for people of color. She’d seen racial disparity and inequity growing worse. And in the summer of 2020, just steps from her Capitol Hill home, she saw equity and racial injustice explode into the city’s, and the country’s, consciousness.

Dumler knew equity was a huge, complex, societal issue. She knew that, as one person, she couldn’t solve it, but she was, as she described herself: “the kind of person who asks: ‘What can I do to help?’” So she called HomeSight and asked if she could provide down payment assistance for a family of color, to help them reach homeownership.

Meanwhile, another Windermere agent, April Geneva, had started to develop and voice the same concerns. One of Geneva’s clients was selling her inherited house in the Central District – the client’s mother had purchased it in 1989 for $65,000 – and told Geneva: “My mom made an amazing investment, and I recognize that I am now benefiting from generational wealth. I’m sad, leaving the neighborhood, and knowing that not a lot of black folks in Seattle can afford to live here anymore.” The client asked Geneva point blank: “What are you, as realtors, doing about who has access to housing?” Geneva relayed the conversation to a colleague, and said she wanted more black families to experience the benefits of generational wealth.

After meeting with the agents, HomeSight reached out to other housing leaders to explore the creation of a tailored, down-payment assistance program for moderate-income borrowers. The Windermere agents approached Windermere’s president, OB Jacobi, who committed Windermere’s full support, acknowledging the industry’s history of discriminatory practices and its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

By mid-2021, the fund was created with a $40,000 contribution from Windermere and HomeSight’s match. Approved by Sam Smith’s family, the fund’s name pays tribute to a Seattle political icon who was key in enacting the Open Housing Law of 1967. The fund provides up to $20,000 in down-payment assistance to Black families earning between 80% and 120% of Washington’s median income.

Like many agents of change, the Sam Smith “Hi Neighbor” Homeownership Fund was the result of people working together to find solutions, and inspiring others to join.

The program has inspired more partnerships. At each closing, Windermere agents are asked to donate a portion of their commissions to the fund. These donations are then matched by the company’s non-profit arm, the Windermere Foundation. Seeing the success of the program, JP Morgan Chase, Zillow, and US Bank pledged their commitment to the cause. To date, the Sam Smith Fund has helped a dozen families reach homeownership.

“We’ve got to be willing to find different ways,” said Geneva. “This market is really, really difficult. We live in a city where housing is insanely expensive. I’m proud of the fact that the work has begun.”

What’s a Moon Fest?

Family, Prosperity and Dancing in the Moonlight: at its first Moon Fest, HomeSight lights up Othello Park with southeast Asian cultural traditions.

While the lunar new year is a familiar celebration in cities with large east Asian communities such as Seattle, fewer people are familiar with the culturally significant autumn festival traditions celebrated in China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and other east Asian cultures.

“The Moon Fest marks the end of the harvest season,” said event organizer Spring Gin, HomeSight’s community development manager. “It’s a day to celebrate family, and especially children, at the end of the agricultural work year. It’s a time for family reunions. The full moon represents fullness, prosperity, peace and a plentiful harvest.”

Fireworks, lion dancing, food, music, fun and lanterns will light up Othello Park on Saturday, September 30 from 6-10 p.m. at HomeSight’s first-ever Moon Fest. Free and open to the community, the festival will bring the traditions of southeast Asian harvest celebrations to its southeast Seattle neighbors.

The festival will also feature martial arts demonstrations and a fashion show of traditional dress from several southeast Asian cultures. A special moon dance will be performed by senior members of the community, and fireworks will top off the celebration.

With the festival’s special focus on children and families, young attendees will be given treats and lanterns. “In Vietnamese culture, the lanterns light the path for prosperity and good fortune,” said Gin.

Moon Fest is sponsored by HomeSight, a catalyst for community and economic development in southeast Seattle for over 30 years, and Seattle’s Office of Economic Development.

“There’s a lot more to Asian culture than dim sum and pho,” said Gin. “Moon Fest is an opportunity for our large east Asian community to reconnect with their cultural traditions, and for all our community members and neighbors to learn, join in and celebrate with us.”

ABOUT MOON FEST:

What: Moon Fest, sponsored by HomeSight and Seattle’s Office of Economic Development

Where: Othello Park, 4351 S Othello St, Seattle, WA

When: Saturday, September 30, 2023 6-10 p.m.

Who: Everyone!

Cost: Free

Find more information here.

Sign up to volunteer here.

Don’t Let Them Take Our Neighborhoods

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge:
“Don’t Let Them Take Our Neighborhoods”

Attendees L to R: Back row: Jasmyn Jefferson, Deacon Tyson, Brooks Glenn, Donald King, Nicole Bascomb-Green, Tina LaBouve, Councilmember Kiara Daniels, Bishop Tyson. Front row: Patience Malaba, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith, Michael Brown, Margaret Salazar, Gary Gant

Key member of the Biden-Harris administration met HomeSight stakeholders and Black Homeownership Initiative Network members this week to give support to Black homeownership efforts.

HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith moderated a roundtable discussion with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Representative Adam Smith and members of the Black Home Initiative Network (BHIN) to discuss hurdles to homeownership in the Black community.

Several representatives from the BHIN—a coalition of 72 housing leaders dedicated to improving homeownership access in the Black community—attended the event, including Darryl Smith and Nicole Bascomb-Green, a HomeSight board member and the new chair of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

Secretary Fudge acknowledged the racial gap in homeownership is a pressing and longstanding issue. “It’s been 55 years since the Fair Housing Act was passed,” she said. “We know we have to do better.”

Noting the Biden-Harris administration had increased tax credits available for housing construction, Secretary Fudge said the problem only began with the affordable housing shortage. “We know we need to build houses. We are woefully short. But we can’t just build our way out of the problem,” she said. “We have to preserve the housing we have, and we have to preserve our communities.”

 To do that, Mayor Harrell said more robust assistance was needed for down payments in this region that generally ranged from $100k-$150k. “We live in a very wealthy city,” Mayor Harrell said. “This creates a sub-class. You don’t become worth more than $180 billion and don’t recognize the wake you just left.” Mayor Harrell praised HomeSight for its “amazing” work directly tackling the challenges posed by increasingly unreachable starter home prices, saying: “That’s the kind of work we have to do.”

Darryl Smith said HomeSight’s programs addressed a critical gap in Seattle’s housing market. “The reality is that down payment assistance for low-income people is capped at 80 percent of the area median income. House prices have risen so far, and so rapidly, that even people making up to 120 percent of the area median income can’t bridge the gap, and don’t qualify for any assistance.”

At the roundtable, local teacher James Dixon shared his experience purchasing a home with the assistance of HomeSight’s Sam Smith “Hi Neighbor” Homeownership Fund, a loan product created in partnership with Windermere Real Estate designed to increase purchasing power of Black homebuyers earning between 80-120 percent of Washington state’s median income. After years of struggling with rising rent in Seattle, his hometown, Dixon was able to bridge the affordability gap to purchase his home last year with this program.

Bascomb-Green said: “That’s what we see every day as brokers. We have clients who are income rich, but asset poor. They can afford a mortgage, but don’t have the down payment, because they make too much money.”

Darryl Smith said the work must continue on every front. “When we talk about the issues surrounding creating generational wealth, the answer is ‘yes, and …’ It’s supply. It’s homebuyer education. It’s down payment assistance. It’s all of these.”

Secretary Fudge’s message was clear in response: “We want to work with you.”

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith
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