Promoting Sustainable Homeownership

Homeownership can be a powerful way to build wealth. When affordable, a home can offer families stability and be a valuable asset to pass on to future generations. For people who have faced systemic obstacles to homeownership, primarily people of color, owning a home can help build generational wealth and narrow the racial wealth gap. Although not the right choice for everyone, owning a home is also symbolic of the American dream and can be a source of pride for families.

Unfortunately, too many Illinoisans find themselves without enough savings to cover down payment and closing costs. Many are unable to access the credit necessary to even consider the path to homeownership. The foreclosure crisis, which caused millions of households to lose their homes, has had a lasting impact on lending practices, property values, and homeownership opportunities across the state, particularly in low- and moderate-income communities. On top of this, buying a home can be confusing, and many people do not fully understand their options.

There are a variety of ways to address these problems, such as providing more accessible and affordable financial products, expanding the stock of affordable starter homes, and increasing access to reliable homeownership education. This way, homeownership can offer its promises of stability, safety, and opportunity.

What Does It Cost To Own A Home In Illinois?

In Illinois, the median home value is 3.2 times greater than the median household income. This leaves 22.9% of Illinois homeowners “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30% of their income on the cost of mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, and other housing costs.

Why Racial Justice Matters

Homeownership rates reflect the racial wealth gap and public policy needs to do more to close it. 67.5% of Illinois households are homeowners, but they are 1.6 times more likely to be white than a person of color.

An Individual Perspective

For Debra Lee, the path to homeownership required 11 years of planning, counseling, and commitment. Debra attended a first-time homebuying workshop by Housing Action Illinois member LUCHA in 2007, afterward deciding to focus on reducing her debt rather than trying to buy a home. In 2014, she returned to LUCHA and worked extensively with their staff to reduce her debt to a mere $300. Now, with a stable financial base, Debra renewed her search for a house that accommodated her budget and preferences. After a year of searching, Debra said goodbye to her apartment of 17 years on June 8, 2015. “This is your home,” said the previous residents’ daughter on closing day. Three years later, as she stands on her front porch for a photo, the pride Debra feels from that statement still radiates through her welcoming smile.


What Have We Been Doing?

  • Housing Action and partners developed legislation to create a task force to study and recommend implementing a payment plan option to divert delinquent owner-occupied properties in Cook County from the annual tax sale. The task force began meeting in October 2023, and we hope its work will pave the way for legislation creating a payment plan option for Cook County homeowners with delinquent property taxes in 2024.
  • As a HUD Housing Counseling Intermediary, we subgrant more than $1 million each year to  a network of housing counseling agencies. We have been building the capacity of housing counseling agencies since 2005.
  • In 2022, one of our priorities is advocating for public policies that help close the racial gap in homeownership. We plan to work with housing counseling agencies, lenders and others to increase access to affordable financing for homebuyers through small dollar acquisition and rehab loans and use of alternative credit scoring methods that will allow more current residents of low-income communities of color to qualify to purchase homes; assist housing counseling agencies in making use of funds provided through the American Rescue Plan Act to serve homeowners facing housing foreclosure and or other types of housing instability; and advocate to change state rules to allow for funding homeownership opportunities that use a ground lease with a community land trust to support permanent affordability.
  • We regularly advocate for funding for programs that support low-income households on their path to informed, sustainable homeownership. In FY 2012, we worked with groups around the country to successfully advocate for $45 million in federal funding for HUD-certified housing counseling agencies after funding had been totally eliminated in the prior year’s budget, and funding for the program has been awarded every year since.
  • In 2015, in response to a reverse mortgage scheme targeting elderly African American homeowners on the west and south sides of Chicago, we successfully advocated for a new state law providing consumer protections for seniors considering reverse mortgages.
  • In 2017, we successfully advocated for extending two state fees on foreclosure filings; part of the revenue generated supports state grants to provide counseling to homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
  • In 2017, we drafted and advocated for a new state law protecting would-be homeowners from predatory rent-to-own contracts from largely unregulated companies that falsely promise homeownership to people with low incomes.

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