Building the ownership society

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

When Jesus and Karen Oliveras were planning to buy their first home, the United Community Center (UCC) helped connect them with lenders, provided them with information about grants and helped educate them about how to shop around to find the best mortgage rate.
Originally from Puerto Rico, the couple and their four children moved into their home in the 2400 block of South 12th Street in February 2004.
Jesus said he and his wife wanted to purchase their own home to have more privacy after living in apartments and rental properties for several years. Both of them serve as ministers in their community, and Karen and their children regularly sing and play music together – something that didn’t always go over so well in rental properties.
"She can sing, and they can play music as loud as they want now," he said. "We get the freedom to do whatever we want now."
Jesus and Karen were married about three years ago, and Jesus said they needed a place to "be comfortable and start our life together".
Using a variety of programs that fall under the umbrella of the UCC’s Neighborhood Improvement Program, they were able to learn about the home purchasing process, find a lender that would work with them at a fair interest rate and find out about grants they qualified for as a low-income family.
The UCC’s Neighborhood Improvement Program has been in place for more than 10 years and typically averaged a bit more than 20 home sales per year to Hispanic families in the neighborhood around its center at 1029 S. 9th St.
The program was kicked into high gear after Fernando Campos, neighborhood development and homebuying counselor with the UCC, was put in charge in 2003. The program helped 49 families become homeowners in 2004.
Campos said his experience as a homebuyer counselor and his experience with acquisition rehabilitations with the Walker’s Point Development Corp., before coming to the UCC, gave him the experience to help connect potential homebuyers with lenders. Many of his contacts with area banks are former members of the corporation or residents of the area.
"That’s where you build relationships," Campos said. "Then you come over here and you pick up the program and know how to council people and how to get them pre-qualified."
Campos said the program starts with a three-hour seminar, in which clients learn about budgeting, the role an attorney plays in the purchasing process, guidelines of mortgage underwriting, basics of home inspection and how to shop for a home.
That seminar is followed by a face-to-face meeting with Campos, in which he answers questions and clients are able to apply for a free credit check.
Campos will then walk the clients through that check and try to resolve any outstanding issues that would be obstacles to getting a home loan, such as high credit card debt or bad credit.
"Once they have a clean credit report, we will present them with the loan products that are available to them and any grants they qualify for as well," Campos said. "To give them choices is our goal, and let them choose the bank."
Once the client is pre-approved for a home loan and any grants they qualify for are finalized, Campos arranges a meeting between a loan officer from the bank and the clients at the UCC.
"Then they go shopping," Campos said.
He gives clients names of several brokers in the area near UCC, information about homes for sale on the Internet and other advice.
When they were shopping for their home and had questions about the process, Jesus and Karen said they were able to call Campos to help steer them through.
"He was very kind with his time and helped us with certain things," Karen said.
Campos said the great increase in the number of families helped last year was largely due to word-of-mouth advertising, not anything he or other UCC staff had done.
"The Hispanic community is unique," he said. "When you help someone out, their brothers and sisters and relatives know. We hardly do any advertising. and we’re swamped with applicants. They just keep calling, and the banks keep sending clients."
To date, Campos said the agency has had 11 new home loans closed already this year.
Ricardo Diaz, UCC’s executive director, said the neighborhood around the UCC has home ownership rates of about 84 percent, a great increase over the higher renter-occupied rates the area had before the program started.
"We think this model is very positive for the city – the investment they make," Diaz said. He also said the UCC is interested in expanding homeownership among the Hispanic community in areas larger than just the area close to the facility.
The Oliveras’ home is about a 10-minute drive from the UCC.
Diaz said the agency hopes many of the families are able to buy the homes, improve them over several years and sell them when they are ready, so they can move to other areas of metropolitan Milwaukee when they want to.
"They will not stay there for the rest of their lives," Diaz said.
Since the UCC is a nonprofit agency that has no stake in the home purchase or loaning money, Diaz said the agency is able to take a neutral stance in negotiations.
"All we’re interested in is seeing a home purchased in this area," Diaz said. "We think in terms of crime, homes being purchased are positive for the city, for its people and for businesses. When the homeowners are thinking about improvement, it has a ripple effect on the whole community."
While the increased homeownership rates have helped lower crime in the neighborhood and raise property values, Diaz said they will also help businesses along nearby National Avenue and Mitchell Street.
"There are opportunities for the marketplace – banking, furniture, hardware and more," Diaz said.

March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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