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Housing program builds on dream

September 17, 2018

Thirteen years after arriving in the United States from Algeria, Soraya Belfodil says she has a dream.

However, she doesn’t see it as a uniquely American dream.

“This is the dream of any human being — to buy a house,” she said.

However, studies show the dream is more difficult to obtain for minorities, especially in Minnesota, which reportedly has one of the highest racial homeownership gaps in the country.

According to the Minnesota Homeownership Center, 41 percent of households of color own a home in the state, compared to 76 percent of white households.

Bill Gray, stakeholder relations director for the center, said that gap of 35 percentage points has been stubborn statewide, even though the gap in Olmsted County is slightly less, at approximately 28 percentage points, according to Olmsted County Public Health’s latest Community Health Needs Assessment survey.

Belfodil, a single mother of three girls, ranging in age from 12 to 22, said she hopes she’s on the path to bridging the gap.

She started her journey toward owning her first home last winter and hopes to actively start looking for a house to buy in the final months of 2018, when she’s told the market could soften slightly.

She said she also wants to take her time to make sure each step is handled properly.

“It’s especially tricky as an immigrant,” she said.

That’s where the county’s homebuyer education classes came in handy. Since taking the classes last the winter, Belfodil has been able to layout the steps toward her dream, and continued counseling has helped her develop a strategy to overcome challenges created by student debt associated with a master’s degree program through the former Minnesota School of Business, which left her with more debt than opportunity.

Now working with Family Support and Assistance, Belfodil said she discovered the homeownership program as part of the county’s plan to help people buy and keep a house, which helped fuel her dream of one day having a home her daughters can return to after they start their own adult lives.

“I want some place where they can gather for holidays,” she said, noting her parents’ home was that place for her in Algeria.

The Governor’s Task Force on Housing recently released a report calling for the creation of more opportunities for people like Belfodil.

Among the report’s six main goals was to support homeownership, specifically stated as creating “pathways to sustainable homeownership, with a focus on removing barriers for households of color.”

Olmsted County, in partnership with the Minnesota Homeownership Center and Three Rivers Community Action, has been doing that work for years through homeownership classes and individual counseling.

Julie Gugin, executive director of the Minnesota Homeownership Center, said the partnership is important, since the statewide agency can provide resources for education while the local entities can tailor the information to regional needs.

Both the county and Three Rivers offer classes and counseling, as well as other programs to assist people with housing, and Gugin said Rochester faces some unique challenges due to increased growth.

“To the extent that the state and a whole is feeling pinched in housing supply, Rochester is feeling it even more,” she said.

And while the focus of the statewide effort is for providing more home-buying opportunities for people of color, local program providers note that their services are open to all in the county or region, which includes a variety of socio-economic circumstances.

“We have seen almost everyone, from Mayo Clinic employees to people in the Section 8 program in the city,” said Ojoye Akane, emerging markets officer for Three Rivers Community Action.

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