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Chicago Defender-There’s No Place Like Your Own Home

By Andrea L. Zopp

Hopefully you’re reading this issue of the Chicago Defender from the comfort of your home, apartment or at the home of a loved one. I believe that there is no better place to be during the holidays than at home celebrating the season with family and friends. And if you’re not at home, I hope you’re somewhere with people you hold dear.

We take the word “home” seriously at the Chicago Urban League. For decades, we have helped individuals and families achieve their dream of homeownership. However, for many African Americans, homeownership remains a dream deferred. Some believe they cannot afford to take this important leap. Others are afraid that if they do, they won’t be able to make their mortgage payments on time and will end up in foreclosure.

Unfortunately, recent headlines and statistics don’t do much to ease the anxiety. In November Crain’s Chicago Business reported that, among the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Chicago ranks second in the number of foreclosure filings. And last fall, many outlets reported that, according to the Census Bureau, the African American homeownership rate is at its lowest since 1995.

Despite the sobering headlines, homeownership does not have to be an impossible dream. Research shows that homeownership remains one of the most critical paths to accumulating wealth and revitalizing neighborhoods.  It also inspires the next-generation of property owners. Homeownership as a key factor in restoring communities is one of the motivations behind Chicago Neighborhoods Now, a new city initiative to revitalize seven neighborhoods, including Englewood and Pullman.

At the Chicago Urban League, our housing counseling team works hard to secure fair housing and boost homeownership for African American families.  Our housing staff tells everyone they come in contact with that owning a home is still a worthwhile investment and a key step to gaining personal wealth and economic power. Through group and one-one-one counseling and financial literacy classes, they take the fear out of homeownership by helping people get their financial house in order and understand the buying process.

In 2014, we’re going to step up our efforts. Thanks to support provided by BMO Harris and First Midwest Bank under the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Chicago Urban League will soon be poised to help some of our clients with down payment and closing cost assistance. This is welcome news in this challenging economy.

Let’s consider the numbers. Today, a family buying a $120,000 home would need to come up with about $4,200, based on the 3.5 percent down payment requirement for a loan from the Federal Housing Authority. Through this new program, that family could qualify to receive the full down payment and have a few dollars left over to assist with the closing cost or moving expenses.

“These costs are often the biggest barriers to homeownership for African Americans,” Margaret Wooten, our senior director of housing counseling, told me. She added that, “this is true even more so today with people staying out of work longer after they lose their jobs. Wages also have failed to bounce back from the recession, and in some industries, African Americans continue to suffer from severe wage disparities, especially women.”

Thanks to BMO Harris and First Midwest Bank, we’re going to help new homeowners release some of the stress of coming up with those critical funds that result in the keys to ones’ first home. To qualify for this new homeownership financial assistance program, individuals must be a first-time homebuyer and have received at least eight hours of counseling through our first-time homebuyers’ program.

While we are very happy to offer this unprecedented support, we know that financial assistance is only part of the solution. The Chicago Urban League takes a comprehensive approach to housing counseling and follow-up. We want to make sure that our clients not only get their homes, but that they stay in their homes, contribute to the improvement of their neighborhoods, and inspire others to realize the dream of homeownership.

Becoming a homeowner is still very possible in the African American community. And the Chicago Urban League is here to help. If you or someone you know is an aspiring first-time homebuyers, encourage them to, in the New Year, be educated, be empowered, and hopefully, by this time next year, be ready to celebrate the holidays in a home of your own.

All of us at the Chicago Urban League wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas, a Happy Kwanzaa and a wonderful New Year.

Andrea L. Zopp is president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. To learn more about the Urban League’s housing programs call 773-285-5800 or visit