The great American dream has always been home ownership and the sense of security that property provides. But as many families across America find out, buying a home is not easy. Credit deficiencies or the lack of a down payment close the door to home ownership for some, while those who already own homes may face foreclosure and repossession if a family member is laid off or becomes seriously ill. Often banks don’t have the answers people are looking for.
This is what James P. Butler saw back in 1975 in his home town in Pennsylvania, and, right out of his dining room, he decided to set up his own neighborhood revitalization program. Soon he was targeting neighborhoods across the state and what began as a faith-based organization turned into Housing Opportunities, Inc.
“It wasn’t easy getting it all started,” says Butler, who describes the process as “slow and arduous.” But the end result has been a godsend for many families struggling to make ends meet and somehow, some way, own their own home. Housing Opportunities offers an array of programs designed not only to help families achieve home ownership but to boost the quality of the neighborhood.
As a first step, the group’s Earned Home Ownership Program (EHOP) addresses the problem of the family that is turned down for a mortgage by a traditional lender. Sometimes it has to do with income, other times with credit problems. EHOP offers lower down payments and lower interest rates on first mortgages.
For families that don’t need that level of help but are still encountering difficulties on the road to home ownership, there’s another program called Home Buyers Advantage Plus. Not only do families in this category receive better interest rates and more favorable financing, but they also are directed to certain “targeted” neighborhoods that are in need of revitalization. Most critically, the homeowners attend educational sessions concentrating on the intricacies of affording a home and sticking to a workable budget.
Again, as many families learn, acquiring a home is really only the beginning of the financial challenge. A constant worry that haunts many homeowners is falling behind on a mortgage. What if, even after careful budgeting, a family cannot afford to pay even its utility bills? This predicament is addressed by the Home Ownership Protective Effort program (HOPE). Through HOPE, families not only receive credit counseling but are given food aid and, if they qualify, one-time loans to get them through the rough times.
In some instances, the threat to home ownership becomes dire—a worker is laid off, spouses get divorced, or a parent falls ill, reducing the household income. Meanwhile, hospital bills pile up, school tuition needs to be paid, utility bills keep coming, and neither lenders nor the government seem willing to help. This is where Housing Opportunities’ Second Chance program steps in. Through Second Chance, you can refinance your mortgage (if you qualify) and obtain counseling on how to stick to your budget.
All of this is made possible by charitable giving. The money allows for Housing Opportunities to do what it does best—what James Butler describes as a “social entrepreneurial approach that feeds our growth.” His hope is that rather than government leading the way, his programs will have a “bottoms-up” influence in Washington. “It’s a results-oriented approach. It’s irrefutable,” he says. But Butler stresses that it takes a long time for donations to translate into visible achievements, though over the long term charitable investments can bear great fruit. (One sign that it’s working: Housing Opportunities’ mortgage default rate is under 2 percent.) Just look at Housing Opportunities, Inc.—after 25 years, it’s working in 14 states to revitalize neighborhoods one homeowner at a time.