Abell Salutes: ACORN

March 2002 / Salutes / Community Development

For strengthening neighborhoods house by house, and helping renters become homeowners.

There is generally a positive relationship between quality of life and homeownership. The rate of crime, teenage pregnancy and parenting, and school dropout tends to be lower in neighborhoods where families own their homes. Historically, for low-income families, homeownership is elusive—frequently frustrating and disappointing. But ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), to the extent of its reach, is changing the rules, making it possible for a significant number of low-income renters to become homeowners.

ACORN, along with ACORN Housing and Financial Literacy and Loan Counseling programs, has been in operation since 1994. Its programming has been designed to ease the path from rental to ownership, steering the aspiring homeowner through the shoals of red tape and resistance, and it doesn’t give up until the family is ensconced in its new home. To that end, the agency energetically engages available community resources.

In the course of its day-to-day efforts ACORN negotiates comprehensive Community Reinvestment Act agreements with major area lenders, including AmericaQuest Mortgage Company and Bank of America Mortgage; mounts challenges of bank mergers thought to be against the best interests of low-income borrowers; develops loan instruments that can best serve low- to moderate-income families; assists buyers by identifying potential properties; helps families with budgeting; provides information on predatory lending and how to avoid it; and assists consumers in making complaints to state, local and federal agencies to help enforce anti-predatory lending laws.

Numbers tell the ACORN story best. In the past three years the program has helped close 1,738 loans to low- to moderate-income borrowers in Baltimore City with a delinquency rate of only 2.3 percent. Counseling has been provided for over 300 victims of predatory lending practices, and 4,000 families have been counseled on budgeting and bill paying.

The Abell Foundation salutes ACORN for its continuing efforts in helping low- to moderate-income families become homeowners, and commensurately, improving the quality of life in Baltimore, house by house.