Affording the American dream of homeownership – Democrat & Chronicle – October 3, 2015

Affording the American dream of homeownership
By: Patti Singer and David Riley

Ben Kershner and his wife, Wolf, need to insulate their attic before winter. They likely will need a new water heater around the same time.

Boxes from their springtime move sit in the living room, waiting to be unpacked. Paintings still need to go up on the walls.

But when Ben looks around their new Greece home, he doesn’t see chores. He sees possibilities.

“There is so much potential in what we’ve just done in buying a house,” he said, sitting in his sunroom with Wolf and their infant daughter, Amber. “There’s the potential for a happy home, raising a family and watching my daughter grow up in these rooms.”

People in middle- and upper-income brackets may see homeownership as a given. Many people like the Kershners — at or just above the poverty line — still want that legacy for their children.

But their path to that piece of the American dream can be complicated.

Advocates say that disparities in mortgage lending have made it more difficult for some minority groups in the Rochester area to own homes, and foreclosures have hit low-income, African-American and Latino neighborhoods hardest.

The problem isn’t just in the city.

From 2000 to 2011, the number of poor people grew in Rochester’s suburbs by about 73 percent — a growth rate far higher than in the city itself, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institution. Scarcity of moderately priced houses in the inner-ring suburbs also limit options for those low-income wage earners.

Programs help people overcome these obstacles, but advocates say more can be done.

With a major initiative under way to alleviate local poverty, proponents say that owning a home can be a powerful way for poor people to build wealth and stability as long as the lending terms are fair, and buyers are well-educated about the financial responsibilities that go with the purchase.

For families across the economic spectrum, homeownership often seems like a natural step. Chad Rieflin, director of program and grants for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester, said parents decide they need a different environment for their children or see others moving up the ladder.

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