housing recoveryCNBC recently reported that U.S. housing starts rose to a near eight-year high, suggesting that the housing market is on fire. The U.S. Commerce Department said that permits to build new houses increased by 30 percent in June, and groundbreakings on new homes surged 26.6 percent compared to one year ago. All these indicators seem to be saying that now must be the perfect time for homeownership.

However, many community development experts are looking at another set of data. Homeownership rates have plummeted from 69 percent in 2005 to 63.7 percent, with the largest drop among blacks. Between 2005 and 2009, blacks and Latinos experienced a decline in household wealth of 52 percent and 66 percent, respectively, compared to a drop of 16 percent for whites. Some of the hardest-hit metropolitan areas in the United States include Atlanta, where 35 percent of home owners are underwater.

If the trend for minority homeownership and wealth does not reverse, the housing market will stall. It is projected that by 2025, minorities will make up 36 percent of all U.S. households and 46 percent of those aged 25-34 – when first homes usually are purchased. When nearly half of the people who traditionally become new homebuyers are under-served by the market, lenders, builders and nonprofit community developers must find new ways to help them achieve their goals.

Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP) is one example of a nonprofit community developer that is executing new strategies and tactics to provide much-needed support to stabilize communities and facilitate sustainable homeownership.

With the help of NeighborWorks’ Catalytic Grant Program, ANDP is tapping into national expertise and working with grassroots leaders from six counties impacted heavily by the foreclosure crisis and lingering negative equity issues. Its goal is to educate distressed homeowners on the full range of programs available to help them modify their mortgages, as well as to rehab declining housing stock, develop more affordable options and stimulate market demand.

ANDP is a member of the NeighborWorks network, 256 organizations at work in nearly 4,000 communities across America. NeighborWorks organizations support people with modest incomes, among whom minorities are over-represented. In fiscal year 2014 (ending in September), it assisted nearly 4,300 blacks and more than 4,000 Latinos become homeowners.

More needs to be done to dive deeper than the surface statistics of a rebounding housing market to create opportunities for a broad-based resurgence in homeownership.

As vice president of NeighborWorks’ Southern Region, Donald Phoenix is responsible for overseeing financial and technical services for network organizations throughout a 12-state region, including Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. He also leads the organization’s Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For more than 35 years, NeighborWorks America has created opportunities for people to improve their lives and strengthen their communities by providing access to homeownership and to safe and affordable rental housing. In the last five years, NeighborWorks organizations have generated more than $24.5 billion in reinvestment in these communities. NeighborWorks America is the nation’s leading trainer of community development and affordable housing professionals. For more information visit http://www.neighborworks.org

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