Housing at Square One

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Over 4 million homes were lost to foreclosure in the three years from 2007-2009. Before 2006, the worst record of the decade was just under 500,000 foreclosures in 2002.

Assistance has come in many forms: An army of counselors work on loan modifications for homeowners who are “underwater” on their mortgage; HUD launches Making Home Affordable and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program; city governments board-up, fix-up, and ante-up to keep families in homes and protect neighborhoods from decline. But, in the face of such loses, local government leaders are finding it necessary to return to square one and to begin again.

To be back at square one is to admit that many more mortgages will fail in 2010, that getting a mortgage requires more savings and less debt, and that a house is a dwelling and not necessarily a wealth-increasing investment. Nonetheless, square one is also the place where passion, leadership, and the ever-present optimism of town mayors and city councils counts for much.

Being at square one means seeing if the housing options in your community fit the myriad of individual and family needs. This mixture of choices is less about the number of bedrooms and more about a continuum of opportunities – a continuum that includes small and large apartment buildings, town houses, condominiums, duplexes, and detached single-family houses.

 What tasks then for the city and town officials? Be ready with the information about the rules for winning the game – personal savings, good credit scores, limited debt – perhaps using NLC’s Bank on Cities Campaign as a model. Challenge local financial institutions to make loans fairly to all those who qualify. And finally, ensure your community has housing for renters, for owners, and for those who transition back and forth between renting and owning.