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Urban League Aims to Boost Minority Home Ownership, Stem Foreclosures

By Wendell Hutson | June 25, 2013 3:55pm
 Take Root Chicago is a new housing program developed through a partnership between the Chicago Urban League and federal housing lender Freddie Mac.
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BRONZEVILLE — Every year, more black and Hispanic homeowners on the South and West Sides lose their homes to foreclosure or struggle to buy their first homes, said Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

"It is not a secret that many Chicago neighborhoods, particularly on the South and West Sides, have almost as many vacant homes as there are occupied," Zopp said, adding that 25 percent of African Americans have lost their homes in the last three years.

On Tuesday, Zopp announced a program aimed at reversing a trend that's "destroying neighborhoods and families."

Take Root Chicago, a partnership with federal housing lender Freddie Mac, is designed to provide a host of services under one roof.

"No more going to one place for financial counseling and then another place for lending. The Take Root Chicago program provides everything a potential homeowner needs," said Margaret Wooten, the urban league's senior housing director.

Since the upfront costs of homeownership, including a down payment, are a barrier for many potential buyers, the program will work with lenders like BMO Harris Bank to provide down payment assistance, Wooten said.

That's good news for Derrick and Melody Carpenter, who've been rejected twice in the last five years in their attempts to buy a home. The couple, who have two teen sons, rent a three-bedroom apartment in the Park Manor neighborhood for $1,100 a month.

"First, our credit scores were too low, and then our income was not stable enough. I wonder what it will be this time?" Derrick said.

Melody said she doesn't want to move to the suburbs or a bad neighborhood just for the sake of buying a home.

"I'd rather stay renting than to move to Englewood or Roseland. I have two sons and their safety comes first, as well as mine, because I work nights," said the 45-year-old bank employee.

The Take Root Chicago program would be ideal for them, said Christina Diaz-Malone, vice president of housing and community outreach for Freddie Mac.

"What separates this program from others, and believe me there are plenty of good programs out there, is our ability to cater services to clients and to have all resources needed to purchase a home under one umbrella," Diaz-Malone said.

Last year, 43,408 Illinois homeowners facing foreclosure got assistance from Freddie Mac, she said.

"Bad lenders have put neighborhoods on a course of destruction, and we want those lenders to know that our neighborhoods are not a fire sale," she said.

Protecting homeowners from predatory lenders is a top priority, said Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who also attended the news conference.

"These are lenders who often target homeowners in the African-American community, especially seniors, who were looking to get some extra cash to help pay for a wedding or college tuition for their grandchildren," said Madigan. "I sued those lenders in 2007 to stop them from preying on vulnerable homeowners who did not know any better."

The goal of the urban league partnership is not to help make everyone who applies a homeowner "because not everyone is ready to become a homeowner," said Zopp.

"We want to put people in homes they can afford and maintain at a pace they're comfortable with," Zopp said.