Sustainable homeownership is the “gateway to the middle class” for many Americans and is the primary source of wealth creation for many, which is why increasing the homeownership rate is so critical to a healthy economy, according to a panel at a housing forum in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
In the “Achieving the American Dream” housing forum, hosted by First American Financial Corporation, two members of Congress addressed the audience while a panel of experts discussed primarily how to increase the homeownership rate among Latinos and African-Americans. Panelist Gary Acosta, Co-Founder and CEO, National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Agents, declared to the agreement of the panel that the gateway to the middle class in America is sustainable homeownership—and that lenders do not need to lower the bar, but instead need to open the credit window.
“What that essentially means is we’re not trying to quality people who probably shouldn’t qualify for a mortgage,” Acosta said, “but we want to widen the criteria that we use and the metrics that we use to identify successful homeowners of the future.”
One way to open the credit window without lowering the bar, which will in turn increase the country’s homeownership rate, is to find new and inventive ways to determine creditworthiness and subsequently lend to the group that is “credit invisible,” or have no credit history. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report in May stating that 26 million American adults had no credit history, and that Black and Hispanic consumers were more likely to be credit invisible than white consumers (15 percent compared to 9 percent).
“We need to find ways to credit score these types of individuals by using things like rental payment histories, utility history, and cell phone payment histories,” First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming said. “If they’ve established a creditworthiness through making monthly rental payment and timely payments on their cell phone bills, then you know there’s a good chance that they’ll also be capable of making a mortgage payment on time.”
Acosta and panelist Cheryl Roberts, Executive Director, African-American Alliance for Homeownership, both pointed out that Americans earn income differently than they did 40 and 50 years ago, when they earned income from one job and had only one W2 form to report all their income. Now for many Americans, income originates from many different sources.
“Tracking is the key,” Roberts said. “Don’t put your money under your mattress. It needs to be tracked. It has to be put in the bank and you have to have that relationship with an institution. And you have to file taxes, whether it’s a profit or a loss.”
Fleming pointed out that “the fastest amount of household formation happening in the U.S. today is happening in the Hispanic community,” and panelist Patty Arvielo, President of New American Funding, stated that “’hispanillenials’ are showing more interest in homeowenship and often build multigenerational homes,” which makes that demographic a key to increasing the homeownership rate in the coming decades.
The Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that the homeownership rate increased by 0.3 percentage points up to 63.7 percent in Q3 after hitting a 48-year low in Q2.
The panel also included Barrett Burns, President and CEO, VantageScore Solutions. The forum started off with addresses from Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Missouri), and former Governor Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico).