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Making Homeownership Dreams a Reality

New America Media, News Report, Carmen Ng Posted: Feb 27, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- Declaring that his city would have the most progressive housing program in the country, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday the creation of HomeownershipSF, a nonprofit organization that will educate low- and moderate-income residents about home buying. Newsom stated his commitment to the principle of homeownership and said the new effort gives the city the opportunity to guarantee that no one is displaced."

Planning for HomeownershipSF started two years ago with a report from NeighborWorks America, a national organization created by Congress. The report described what homeownership services are needed to meet the increased demand for the city's plan to provide affordable housing. HomeownershipSF will be up and running this July.

Chela Vazquez moved from Minnesota to San Francisco two and a half years ago, and thought owning a house in the city was an unreachable dream. Now, she thinks differently.

"I can't tell you when I will be able to buy a house, but this program is making it a possibility," Vazquez said at the press event, which was sponsored by the San Francisco Foundation. Vasquez hopes to own a house in the Mission district, where she is now a tenant.

HomeownershipSFs goal is to increase the number of first-time minority and working-class homebuyers purchasing in San Francisco. Community residents will be educated on financial literacy, property tax bill, and who they can trust, said Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting.

To fight the foreclosure crisis and help people who are struggling to buy their first home, HomeownershipSF has allied with local financial institutions to bring the home loan default rate to zero.

Ting also stated that many immigrants, due to language barriers, have difficulty understanding the home-buying process, which can be "frightening," even to English speakers.

The program also aims to encourage stability. "The longer you keep the house, the less you have to pay back for subsidy," said Michael Gabriel, a NeighborWorks America consultant. This lowers the chance that people will attempt to profit from flipping their properties, which increases market values and makes homeownership even more unaffordable for those with lower incomes.

The need for homeowner services has increased in part because the city requires developers of new residential buildings to set aside units for qualified low-income groups, said Myrna Melgar of the Mayor's Office of Housing.

"What I like about the mayor's program is its fairness," Vazquez added. "There is a social value added to it. You don't spend so much on the house, but you also don't profit much from selling it because you have to make it affordable to other people."

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