Commentary: How to level the housing playing field

Ten years after the housing market crash, we are still a nation at risk. If we are not careful, we could find ourselves plunging head-first into a repeat crash. Despite gains in more responsible lending, we are still ignoring the lessons learned.

One of the most significant lessons is that partnering with an organization that has all the resources that make a community successful is key. NeighborWorks America and its network of organizations around the country — including NCALL (National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund), headquartered in Dover — help residents thrive in the face of everyday challenges, including the uneven recovery that has contributed to declining opportunities such as homeownership for too many in our communities.

Karen Speakman

The shortage of affordable housing in Delaware is well documented. Housing Alliance Delaware reports that workers must earn $21.85/hr. full time to afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment — the 15th-highest rental housing wage in the U.S. Delaware’s median home price is $225,400, 19 percent higher than the national median cost. The foreclosure rate is No. 3 in the country (Realty Trac), with one in 1,324 homes at risk.

Throughout Delaware, NCALL helps to ensure that people have the proper tools and resources so they are informed consumers from the moment they consider owning a home. The organization offers Homeownership Counseling, $tand by ME one-on-one Financial Coaching, and Foreclosure Prevention services.

In 2018, 319 families purchased their first homes, more than 2,500 people worked on resolving credit problems and better money management, and 136 homes were saved from foreclosure.

Since 1976, NCALL’s impact has resulted in 8,754 new homeowners and with its other affordable housing and community development programs, over $1.5 billion of economic impact!

The journey toward sustainable homeownership begins long before the walkthroughs and financing applications. Far too many prospective first-time buyers dive in without the proper support and resources, only to find themselves locked in to funding programs and mortgages they cannot afford.

A decade after the housing market collapsed, a new survey from NeighborWorks America reveals that there’s room for improvement with homebuyer education. More than 70 percent of people are not aware or are unsure about down payment assistance programs, according to the survey.

Purchasing a home can be a confusing, daunting process. Many people make the mistake of falling in love with a house, only to realize it doesn’t make sense financially. In years past, in an effort to get to a quick approval, some buyers would turn to subprime loans as a way to make their dream a reality, failing to understand all the possible implications of such loans..

Marietta Rodriguez

To avoid repeating the past, when millions of subprime loans went into foreclosure and sparked the 2008 financial crisis as well as a housing crisis, people should work with a housing counselor, who can help buyers shop for homes and mortgage products that are safe and affordable.

Housing counselors can also aid in matching buyers with local resources such as down payment assistance that can further help the affordability of the purchase, making it more sustainable long-term.

A large affordability gap exists for people in Delaware and across the country, and many consumers fail to identify the programs and resources available to them that can help bridge that gap.

Whether it’s help with a down-payment assistance program or financial education planning courses, research has shown that pre-purchase counseling helps reduce mortgage default and provides homeowners with the information they need to budget for other expenses and maintain their property.

Down-payment assistance is especially helpful for homebuyers who are unsure about affordability because of student loan debt.

Over the past 40 years, NeighborWorks America and its network have assisted close to an estimated 8 million people through affordable housing and counseling.

The organization also has expanded its programs to include more elements required by strong communities, such as financial coaching and access to educational opportunities.

In Delaware and other regions across the country, increasing access to information and resources will help people reach goals such as homeownership that they once considered unattainable. NCALL invites aspiring homebuyers, households at risk of foreclosure, and Delawareans in need of improved financial skills to contact us for an appointment at (302) 678-9400.

Karen Speakman is executive director of NCALL and Marietta Rodriguez is president and chief executive officer of NeighborWorks America.

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