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Homeownership classes, counseling aim to help bridge gap

September 17, 2018

Earlier this year, Amel Flissi’s dream of homeownership seemed out of reach.

“I was thinking about buying a house, but I didn’t think I could afford it,” she said.

Now, she’s taking final steps to move out of the two-bedroom townhouse her family rents and into a 1,144-square-foot split level, three-bedroom home in Northeast Rochester, which they own.

As a result, when her husband returns from a trip to see family in Algeria, he will come to a new home with his wife and two children.

At this point, Faisal Ahmed has only seen photos of the new home, but Flissi said the outcome would be the same if he had been in Rochester.

“Even if he was here, I’m the one who would be deciding which house I want,” she said.

Setting a budget

The purchase is also made unique by how fast it happened. While the journey for more and more Rochester homebuyers has stretched into longer periods, Flissi found a smooth and quick process after taking Olmsted County’s homebuyer class this summer.

She said the class helped her understand the process and how to set a budget, leading her to a lender who authorized a limited purchase amount, which Flissi said also motivated her to move quickly.

“I didn’t have a big budget, that’s why I didn’t look around too much,” she said of looking for a home priced less than $150,000.

The result is a basic housing cost that will be reduced by $500 a month once Flissi and Ahmed pay off the $6,300 owed for breaking their townhouse lease with two months’ notice.

Cost of ownership

Flissi said she realizes there will be added expenses for maintenance and fixing up the home — those are lessons taught in the homebuyer classes — but she added it’s worth the extra commitment to have something she owns and can control.

“We can even change the paint and do anything to our house,” she said with a sparkle in her eye as she sat in her new home, which has seen limited updates since a 1975 renovation.

Beyond offering the ability to paint and make upgrades, Flissi said the purchase should allow her two-income family to generate some savings.

“Even if it’s $100 or $200, it’s money you can save,” she said.

Athieei Lam, Olmsted County’s homeownership specialist, said that’s one of the goals of the homebuyer classes, which are organized by Olmsted County and Three Rivers Community Action.

“I want people to know not just what it means to get a house, but what it means all around,” she said, noting that for some people that can mean unexpected expenses and for others it can generate savings.

Building wealth

The Governor’s Task Force on Housing recently noted homeownership is a primary driver for building wealth.

“Each year of successful homeownership adds nearly $10,000 in household wealth,” the task force’s recent report states. “It also creates stability for families and stronger connections within our communities.”

While her husband is a certified public accountant, Flissi said the budgeting aspect of the homebuyer class was one of the biggest benefits she saw in taking the class. It showed her how she could work with her husband’s income, plus what she earns at Olmsted Medical Center, to provide a brighter future for her family of four.

Lam said a secondary goal of the homebuyer classes, and of free pre- and post-purchase counseling, is to make sure that future stays bright.

Doing the research and sticking to a plan helps lessen the chance of foreclosure, she said.

Savings for Minnesota

Bill Gray, stakeholder relations director for the Minnesota Homeownership Center, said such services benefit more than the homeowner.

“Between 2005 and 2016, nearly 40,000 foreclosures were prevented via the center’s foreclosure prevention services,” he said in an email. “This translated to more than $3.1 billion in savings for Minnesota communities.”

Julie Gugin, executive director of the center, said the benefit also comes from strengthening communities.

“Our belief is homeownership is important to vibrant communities, and it helps create wealth and opportunities for generations to come,” she said.

To do that, Lam and Ojoye Akane, emerging markets officer of Three Rivers Community Action, said they work to connect class participants with a variety of information on homeownership, but also include classes that represent the diversity in the community.

Unique concerns

Flissi and Soraya Belfodil, both Algerian immigrants who took separate classes, said that was an important aspect of the class.

Belfodil said hearing from an insurance agent and a mortgage provider who were both first-generation immigrants let her know they understood her unique concerns and questions about the home-buying process.

“We don’t borrow money from the bank,” Belfodil said, noting different practices in Algeria when compared to the United States. “We don’t build a house with wood, it’s bricks.”

Flissi said the connection also helped her feel her dream was understood.

“They were understanding my needs to have a house,” she said.

With goals to close the existing racial homeownership gap, Gugin said she appreciates the effort.

“It’s encouraging to me that agencies like Olmsted County and Three Rivers are intentional about how they reach out,” she said.

Open to everyone

Lam and Akane, however, said some of the connection is based on who they know in the community.

“That’s what would naturally happen because of my background and who I am, but I’m marketing to everybody,” Lam said.

Akane acknowledged similar connections, but also noted the desire to continually increase the programs’ reach, since they are open to all in the community.

“We have not reached a lot of people,” he said. “We are trying to work with people’s schedules to see if we can get the community conversations going.”

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