Raising The Roof

The CBCF's plans for putting African Americans in homes

“It’s not always about living beyond your means. Sometimes something happens that you have no control over,” explains 33-year-old Latanya Arnold of her credit problems. Potentially the first in their family to own a home, Latanya and her husband, Raymond, have begun attending seminars to repair their credit in their New Orleans hometown. They began their home-buying process with WOW — With Ownership, Wealth. It is an initiative launched in 2001 by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) in Washington, D.C., whose goal is to place 1 million African Americans in homes by 2005.

“The first cornerstone of wealth creation for most people is home ownership. This equity may spin off into opportunities for owning a business as one builds collateral, and, of course, there’s always the idea of building an estate for one’s heirs,” says Congressman William Jefferson (D-La.), who is also Chair of the CBCF.

Jefferson says there are four steps for consumers to achieving this goal successfully:

  • Believe that home ownership is possible. “Many are concerned about credit and finances, although they may be paying as much in rental fees as they would have to pay in house notes. We take people through a variety of seminars to help them realize that they too can be home owners, and it’s not as scary a process as they may think.”
  • Work through obstacles. “While African Americans may not have what it takes to qualify at that moment, they are all subject to be qualified if they have the basics — a job and the desire to clear up credit.”
  • Find the house. “We have the real estate community putting together the right kind of housing package, so the participants can find something affordable that meets their needs.”
  • Get financed. “Our banking partners can help find flexible products that can be used depending on a person’s circumstances. There can be no predatory lending practices. There can be no heightened interest. Everything has to be based on official interest rates.”
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“Some people are qualified and don’t even know it. Many of them for years have been consistently paying rent. They may have little glitches here or there [on their credit report] or they haven’t found a way to get together the down payment,” says Jefferson.

The Arnolds have already begun working with their local Urban League and a consumer credit counselor to repair credit problems due to medical bills and what Latanya describes as poor decisions. With a combined income of approximately $40,000 a year, the Arnolds currently pay $480 in rent, and mortgage payments are projected to be $692 based on a $102,000 loan with a 6.5% interest rate. With this in mind, the couple is considering a lease-to-purchase program, which will allow them to lease a home from the state of Louisiana and obtain a mortgage within three years after they’ve proven they’re creditworthy.

Tamala Layne, an executive assistant for a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, secured her mortgage through WOW. An early participant in

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