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WASHINGTON – Owning a home is still the American dream and the majority of Americans still consider homeownership a safe investment, but data from Fannie Mae’s 2003 National Housing Survey show that for many Americans, particularly the underserved and minorities, “critical gaps” remain that keep this American dream just that. Despite record low mortgage rates that helped make homeownership achievable for many consumers and continued optimism over the housing market, these gaps need to be addressed to reach the underserved and close the minority homeownership gap, says Fannie Mae. According to the survey, two-thirds of Americans believe now is a good time to buy a home. This optimism is consistent across all races: 57% of African-American families; 69% of English-Hispanic households; 53% of Spanish-Hispanic households. Overall, 57% of all Americans in rental housing say they are “very” or “somewhat likely” to buy a home in the next three years. Minority groups scored this question in the survey even higher: 63% of African-Americans, 67% of English Hispanics and 59% of Spanish Hispanics stated this as their intention. What is the impetus for their optimism? Fannie Mae says the data points to one answer: consumers belief that homeownership is one of the best investments a family or an individual can make. Survey respondents were asked to rate whether owning a home was a safe or risky investment, and whether it was an investment with a lot of potential or very little potential. Overall, the majority answered that buying a home was a bit of both – a safe investment with a lot of potential. However, when the responses are looked at closer, Fannie Mae says there are “significant variations” among different groups. Sixty-one percent of all Americans and 60% of Spanish Hispanics believe that homeownership is a safe investment with a lot of potential. That compares to 54% of African Americans. English-Hispanics, at 67%, are even more likely than the overall population to consider homeownership to be a safe potential. In addition to being an excellent financial investment, survey results show Americans believe owning a home also provides them with social benefits. For example, they indicate that home ownership give them a strong sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. African-American and Hispanic homeowners most frequently cite “having the feeling it is something of your very own” as a major reason they own a home. But despite the survey findings that show Americans’ positive attitudes towards homeownership, results also indicate that not all groups share the same level of understanding about the home buying process or are confident they’ll be able to purchase a home. Four gaps were most prevalent: information, affordability, credit, and confidence. One of the significant roadblocks to homeownership for Hispanic households where Spanish is predominantly spoken is having accurate information about the home-buying process. According to the survey results, only 23% of African-Americans and 18% of Hispanics claim an above average understanding of the home-buying process compared to a third of Americans overall. On the last factor, Fannie Mae said the survey illustrates an overall confidence gap between minorities and the general public over whether or not they can successfully complete the home-buying process. This gap is magnified by concerns over factors such as discrimination and future home price increases. While a majority of Spanish Hispanics understand they have the opportunity to buy a home and that homeownership provides tax benefits, a majority of Spanish Hispanics do not currently have the information they need to form accurate views of the home-buying process. Another interesting related finding of the survey was only 60% of Spanish Hispanics know information on buying a home is available in languages other than English. Aggravating the problem of homeownership among minorities is an affordability gap which Fannie Mae says “divides renters, lower-income Americans, and `seekers’ (those who began the home-buying process but did not take it to completion) from homeowners and the general public.” When asked why they did not complete the home-buying process, 34% of `seekers’ said the process was more expensive than they expected; 17% said they had concerns with getting a low-cost mortgage given their credit history; 13% indicated the process was more complicated and difficult than expected; and 32% gave an `other’ response.’ Many Americans also continue to be concerned that their credit histories will make it difficult for them to qualify for a mortgage – 39% of renters who responded to the survey indicated they considered credit to be a major reason why they haven’t yet purchased a home. In fact credit is the number two reason renters say they haven’t bought a home yet, ranking just behind the purchase price and upkeep expenses of owning a home. Minority households cite credit concerns as the major reason they haven’t bought a home yet, rating it as an even bigger obstacle than affordability. The survey notes that “different parts of the American population have significantly different levels of experience with credit and debt.similarly, different demographic subgroups have significantly different levels of information about the levels of information about the nature of mortgage credit and how to obtain it.” For example, renters, African-Americans, English Hispanics and Spanish Hispanics all overestimate what it takes to qualify for a mortgage, compared to the general public. Seventy-three percent of the general public, for example, know they don’t need to have a perfect credit rating to qualify for a mortgage, compared to 60% of renters, 57% of African-Americans, 64% of English Hispanics, and only 22% of Spanish Hispanics. In another example, the survey cited that only 29% of Spanish Hispanics know that the statement “If you haven’t always paid your bills on time or have carried some debt, you won’t qualify for a mortgage” is false, compared to 64% of the general public. The information, affordability, and credit gaps feed into an overall gap in confidence between minorities and the general population in the U.S. over whether they can successfully complete the home-buying process. In general, African-Americans are less confident than other groups in their ability to go through the home-buying process without facing discrimination. This indicates, says Fannie Mae, that despite the progress made in eliminating discrimination in buying a home, that perceptions about discrimination still present a significant barrier to homeownership. Among some of the other interesting findings of the survey, Americans are split on whether it’s easier or harder to buy a home today than in their parent’s generation, and those that think it’s more difficult may be affected by rising home prices. Sixty-four percent of all Americans believe home prices will go up over the next year. The Spanish-Hispanic community has specific affordability concerns – 57% of the respondents in this group say they send a significant sum of money to relatives in their home country. This average figure totals $223 per month, a particular hardship as 70% of these Spanish Hispanics say they make less than $35,000 per year, says Fannie Mae. -

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