Demand for housing is rising, according to national news reports, and that's good news for homeowners and the overall economy. It's also important to restoring consumer confidence in homeownership, which has suffered mightily during the Great Recession. Restoring that confidence is crucial to community revitalization in Western Pennsylvania and across the nation.
From our vantage point as counselors on both homeownership and foreclosure prevention at NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, the housing market does seem to be coming back, although not to a great degree; foreclosure rates are down but still a very significant fact of life.
What's needed now is to raise awareness of the power of stable affordable homes -- whether owned or rented -- to personal, community and national achievement, and to make generating and distributing that power a higher priority locally and nationally.
That's why I'm in the forefront of a new national movement called Home Matters, which aims to unite America around the essential role that home plays as the bedrock for thriving lives, communities and a stronger nation.
Home Matters (www.HomeMattersAmerica.com) was launched in Washington, D.C., in March with leaders of nearly 200 housing and community development organizations from across the nation participating. Spearheading the launch was the National NeighborWorks Association, with crucial support from Citi Community Development and Wells Fargo.
The reality that this is an important issue is evident throughout Western Pennsylvania, regardless of the setting -- urban, rural or suburban. A stable affordable home enhances personal success. Stable affordable homes enhance school performance, encourage healthy habits and make communities safer.
In contrast, the loss of a home through foreclosure means a vacancy and often blight. A recent Urban Institute study concluded that every time a foreclosure is averted, the community saves an average of $70,700 in lost tax revenue, property depreciation and debt expenses.
As the housing market gains traction again, now is the time to augment consumer confidence in homeownership by reducing the likelihood that potential homeowners will make a mistake. Now is, therefore, the time to increase efforts at pre-purchase budget counseling and homebuyer education.
An independent analysis of the impact of pre-purchase homebuyer counseling and education, offered by NeighborWorks America, on about 75,000 home loans demonstrated the effectiveness of such techniques. Clients receiving pre-purchase counseling and education are one-third less likely to become 90-plus days delinquent over the two years after receiving their loan than borrowers who do not receive that support.
At NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, we provide homebuyer counseling and education in Pittsburgh and across the region. Group classes are supplemented vigorously with one-on-one counseling. This essential work is made possible by the generous support of local banks and foundations, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and NeighborWorks America.
It's time, too, to explore ways to enhance rental opportunities, so that those for whom homeownership is not yet right will have other attractive opportunities. It's also time to ensure that credit standards encourage homeownership while also ensuring responsible borrowing.
All of us have a stake in ensuring that the power of home is effectively energized across Western Pennsylvania. All of us should recognize that home matters.
Colin Kelley is CEO of NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.