By Larry S. Bullock
RISMEDIA, June 15, 2007-Homeownership is the cornerstone of America’s? healthy, vibrant communities and benefits families by helping them build stability and long-term financial security. It is considered by many to be the foundation of the American Dream. Yet for some Americans-especially minority families-the dream of homeownership seems unattainable.
Recent news reports about minority home-owners falling victim to predatory mortgage lending are also discouraging.
A nationwide call to action
June marks National Homeownership Month, an initiative enacted in 2002 with the goal to increase minority homeownership in America. While the rate of minority homeownership has increased since 2002, disparity still exists. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of African-American and Hispanic families own a home, compared to 75% of Caucasian-Americans. Education is the first step in overcoming the barriers that face minority families. The home-buying process is confusing and complicated, and becomes even more cumbersome for those who do not speak English or who have limited education.
Why the gap?
A nationwide study conducted by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) identified “lack of education about the home-buying process” as a major barrier to homeownership among most minority consumers. Additional barriers include:
– Insufficient down-payment
– Lack of language proficiency
– Unverifiable income
– Thin to no credit, more so than bad credit
There are also the perpetual myths about the home-buying process, including the belief among minorities and immigrants that a buyer needs to have a 20% down payment, pristine credit or at least five years in the same job. These misconceptions create a hopeless cycle, either causing individuals to give up the prospect of owning a home altogether or allowing them to fall prey to unscrupulous financial advisors.
There is also the higher cost of borrowing money. Last year’s study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, The Opportunity Agenda and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council found that home-lending inequities transcend racial, gender and ethnic lines. The message is clear – minorities receive a disproportionate number of higher-interest loans. Predatory lenders and purveyors of exotic subprime loans with teaser rates and hidden balloon payments have targeted minority home buyers, manipulating them into unwarranted, illegal or unethical loans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continually tracks and pursues predatory lenders, but consumers must also stay aware and educate themselves on the fine print and ask for help when it’s needed.
Help on the way?
By 2010, minorities will account for nearly two-thirds of growth in the number of new households. Indeed, the newest Census Bureau data makes a compelling business case for lenders to examine ways to offer minority homebuyers a wider variety of loan services:
– People of color now account for 100.7 million of the population, with Latinos as the largest group, with 44.3 million, 14.8% of the population.
– The nation’s black population surpassed 40 million, accounting for 13.4% of the population.
– Latinos were the fastest-growing group, with a 3.4% increase during the periods. Asians were the second fastest-growing group, with a 3.2% increase. The black population increased by 1.3%.
– Four states – California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas – as well as the District of Columbia, now have people of color as the majority.
Many states offer community housing programs with educational resources to help minorities, immigrants and low-income consumers learn about the home-buying process and specifically about opportunities to obtain favorable mortgage financing. The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Web sites at www.fanniemae.com and www.freddiemac.com also contain a wealth of information for potential homebuyers of all types.
Stewart Title’s site at www.stewart.com is another resource for the prospective home buyer. All consumer brochures are available in Spanish and the “Why Title Insurance?” brochure is available in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. Stewart Title also recently partnered with a language services provider to offer comprehensive over-the-phone interpretation and translation services in 150 languages. The service is accessible to all associates in its 900 offices nationwide.
Pursue your dreams
The pursuit of The American Dream does not need to be an elusive one. During the month of June, take some time to focus your efforts on understanding the home-buying process and building a solid financial foundation for the future. There are resources available that can help take the mystery out of the process and get you on your way to realizing your dreams.
Rev. Larry S. Bullock is vice president of Stewart Title Illinois and director of multicultural markets development for Stewart Title’s MidAmerica region. He speaks frequently on the issues of increasing minority homeownership and the financial literacy needed to help lower-income populations achieve this goal.
For more information, visit www.stewart.com.