Home Ownership Month

by Dan Krell

June is here! For many it means that summer is around the corner, school is ending, and trips to the beach. For Realtors and community groups, June is National Homeownership Month.

Since 2002, President Bush has declared June as National Homeownership Month. By doing so, the goal has been to increase minority home ownership to 5.5 million new home owners by the end of the decade. Despite a declining real estate market, home ownership is at record highs. The White House reports that there were 75 million American homeowners during the fourth quarter of 2006, while the homeownership rate was close to sixty-nine percent.

In keeping with the goal, the President and the Congress have passed a number of laws to promote home ownership including The American Dream Downpayment Act, HOME Investments Partnerships Program, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

In 2003, The American Dream Downpayment Act was signed into law. The program was designed to offer down payment and closing cost assistance to low income home buyers. According to the White House, the program has helped over 21,000 families since its inception. Information for local participation and qualification can be obtained through the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which was part of the Title II of the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act, is a federal block grant that allocates almost $2 Billion annually to create affordable housing for low income families. This program has been so successful that it is reported that more than 143,000 families used this program to purchase a home during the 2006 fiscal year.

In keeping with the spirit of home ownership, the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program was created. This program provides non profit organizations, such as the Habitat for Humanity (habitat.montgomery.md.us), the funds necessary to purchase home sites for the purpose of building or renovating by sweat equity and volunteer-based homeownership programs for low-income persons and families. Local programs, such as Habitat for Humanity, offer the resources to families to own affordable homes as well as retaining home ownership by making repairs that they could not otherwise make.

Looking ahead, the 2008 Federal budget includes funding for the “modernizing” of FHA (see my column from the week of May 17, 2007). The expansion of FHA will provide financing alternatives to sub-prime loans for home buyers while offering additional protection from and assistance for those in foreclosure.

Home ownership is the American dream. However for many families, it is still out of reach. Locally, the Maryland Association of Realtors, in conjunction with a coalition with home owners and those who want to be home owners, has created the League of Maryland Homeowners (leagueofmarylandhomeowners.com). The group is committed to making affordable housing available by searching and implementing solutions to the affordability crisis in housing.

There are many opportunities to assist others in their pursuit to home ownership. For example, the Tikvat Israel Congregation of Rockville is sending a contingent of high school students to New Orleans, LA later this month to assist the Habitat for Humanity effort in the still ravaged region.

Although we celebrate home ownership in June, we can make a difference year round from volunteering manual labor to as little as voicing your support for affordable housing initiatives.

This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of June 4, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.