In 2008 I was sitting in an office building in Chicago when the greatest recession since the Great Depression began unleashing its full force on the American economy. Not only had Lehman Brothers and AIG tanked, but the Great Recession was taking many U.S. financial institutions with it. The housing market had also crashed, leaving many families trapped and anxious about their mortgages.
Fast-forward to today and the housing market has largely stabilized. Homeowners’ equity now stands at over $10 trillion and foreclosure starts are at their lowest levels since 2005. As HUD recognizes National Homeownership Month in June, American families are on pace to purchase over five million homes this year. And in April, my husband and I joined that group.
Newly married, we looked forward to buying our first home together, joining so many other American families who have purchased homes this year.
As any homeowner knows, finding the right home can be a daunting task. For months, we toured houses across Washington, D.C., looking for just the right fit. There were those that had the right look but were too small, homes that required total rehab, and of course the “perfect house” that had a dozen other offers.
Luckily, after months of searching, we found a home that we both loved and could afford. With interest rates near historic lows and access to private capital increasing—thanks to the Obama Administration’s market stabilization efforts aimed at protecting the middle class—we were able to purchase our home at a reasonable interest rate and down payment.
In fact, President Obama’s steady leadership during the Great Recession has helped to preserve the American dream—including the central pillar of homeownership. Those polices are ensuring that families like mine are in the best position to buy or keep a home. The President has pushed for a higher minimum wage, enhanced job training programs and investments in infrastructure so that people can get jobs rebuilding roads and upgrading ports—all work that can give families the chance to improve their living conditions.
Following the President’s direction, HUD is also taking concrete steps to increase access to mortgage credit for other homebuyers like us. This spring, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) issued its “Blueprint for Access,” outlining additional steps the agency is taking to expand access to credit for underserved borrowers. These steps include enhancing FHA’s quality assurance processes and encouraging a broader use of housing counseling through the Homeowners Armed with Knowledge (HAWK) program. By clarifying quality assurance policies, FHA seeks to encourage lenders to make loans to a broader range of qualified, underserved borrowers. The average buyer would save approximately $325 a year—or nearly $10,000 over the life of their loan. By completing HUD-approved housing counseling provided through independent nonprofit organizations, people will be given the tools they need to understand the rights and responsibilities of homeownership.
Those responsibilities are many, as my husband and I are learning. The house we chose requires a little updating and as we’ve started some renovations, we’ve found new issues that need resolving along the way. But even with those issues, we are starting to see our house turn into a home. I am truly excited to be new homebuyer, especially during this time as our housing market continues to recover and grow. I’m truly looking forward to the future with my family, new home, and our new neighborhood.
A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Melanie R. Newman is the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.