Buying a Home as an Affordable Housing Advocate

“The siding was installed incorrectly, which is likely to cause a leak,” said the inspector, about 10 minutes after I met him. 

That’s when I realized that for the first time since I moved out of my parents’ house, I wouldn’t be able to call a landlord to have something fixed. This is part of what it means to own a home.

My husband and I are buying our first house—we are excited about the prospect of our son having his own space, imagining a backyard with barbeques with our families, meeting new friends with new playmates. But I approach buying a home with caution. I began my career in housing policy and advocacy in the fall of 2007, just as the subprime market showed its weakness, mortgage delinquencies led to massive foreclosures and the collapse of the housing market created the greatest economic recession of our generation. Given my background, it would be weird if I didn’t approach the home-buying process with a little more trepidation than someone else would.

Studying housing and homeownership starts with understanding the risk of the process, something I was acutely aware of given that the beginning of my career overlapped with the beginning of the collapse of the subprime lending market. The sheer volume of people who were misled before the foreclosure crisis—who received loans they never could afford and got caught up in the waterfall of appraisers, realtors, lenders and homebuilders, all while the entire industry was making money—was a stark and overwhelming way to understand the market. 

After my initial experience at a nonprofit that sought to address foreclosures, I continued to study homeownership in graduate school. I learned the history of homeownership, reading about the secondary mortgage market and the tradition of unequal lending. I studied how decades of disinvestment and displacement impacted borrowers, and simultaneously how important housing was to the global marketplace.

Since joining Prosperity Now, I have had the opportunity to engage with organizations that provide low- to moderate-income clients the tools they need to navigate the homebuying process through building savings, improving credit and accessing affordable housing programs. Participating in first-time homebuyer classes offered to participants helped me see first-hand the challenges and opportunities that everyone faces when they are working to buy what’ll be the biggest asset of their lives. 

And yet, armed with all this knowledge, I still can’t say I felt 100% ready to buy my first home. But that’s sort of the point. All of us, for generations, have taken this risk because even though homebuying is an asset-building tool—and even if we know the impact it has on the global economy and recognize the risks of getting a mortgage—at the end of the day, buying a home is an emotional decision. It is more than inspections and paperwork and closing disclosures and lending terms. It’s an acknowledgement that we are making the best possible decision for our own families with the most reliable information we have, and investing in a place where we can build new memories along the way. Tangled up in all the very important details and disclosures, it’s an emotional decision that we’re making for our family and its future. When I look back on the process, that’s what I think I’ll remember most. That, and to make sure to get that siding fixed.

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