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Forclosure on the Rise: Is the American Dream Possible for Immigrants Today?
By Kwadjo Boaitey

Forbes.com ran a special report this past spring entitled The American Dream. In honor of the 10th anniversary of Forbes.com, writer Elisabeth Eaves highlighted "15 immigrants who made it big."Ã'  Among them was a Governor, a Senator, a former Secretary of State, a General, two billionaires and one of the greatest dancers of our time."

Here's what retired four-star general Colin L. Powell, former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor and U.S. Secretary of State had to say to Forbes' Brian Wingfield about the American Dream:

"The American Dream is something that every immigrant brought to this country, as my parents did, and that is the ability to go as far as you can in life, limited only by your own dreams and willingness to work hard.Ã'  And above all, the American dream for these folks meant that your children will have the opportunity to do better than you will.Ã'  I lived the dream that my parents brought to this country, as did my sister. My parents came here as poor laborers. They left the country they loved-Jamaica-to go to a place where there was opportunity, a place where they could dream, a place they came to love deeply. They worked hard and watched their children become successful, one as an educator and one as a soldier."

How would today's immigrant define the American Dream when he along with African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to receive high cost or sub prime loans featuring adjustable rate mortgages which are contributing to a nationwide foreclosure crisis, the likes of which this generation has never seen?

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) in a July 2007 report, Income is no shield against racial differences in lending, found that "These loose underwriting standards have created the conditions for a perfect storm as almost 2 million of the ARM [Adjustable Rate Mortgage] loans will re-set or start adjusting upward from their initial rates in 2007 and 2008."

The report, "a comparison of high cost lending in America's metropolitan areas," goes into great detail about these risky lending practices and the pervading racial disparities. "If a consumer is a minority, particularly an African-American or a Hispanic, the consumer is most at risk of receiving a poorly written high cost loan, and middle-class or upper-class status does not shield minorities from receiving dangerous high-cost loans."

Freedom is one term used synonymously with the American Dream.Ã'  Eaves reminds us in "15 immigrants who have made it big," that etched in the base of the Statue of Liberty are these words: 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.'Ã'  People come to this country because they feel in America you will have the opportunity to be whatever you want to be, - with a little determination and hard work.

In order to be free from the plight of foreclosure, immigrants will have to educate themselves and take responsibility for their greatest investment; their home, the quintessential symbol of "The American Dream."Ã'  "If the loan sounds too good to be true, then it probably is," says Andrea George, Realtor and Atlanta Caribbean Association president.Ã'  When George moved to Atlanta she sought out the Caribbean Association.Ã'  She felt it would provide her with a network of individuals she could get know and trust, as well as fill her need for Caribbean culture.Ã'  When working with anyone to identify and purchase a home, George advises working with someone you know and trust.

"Atlanta has the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation," says Ozell Brooklin, Director of The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Housing in Atlanta. Established in 1970, ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low-and-moderate income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities. ACORN Housing chapters were created to address issues in housing like redlining practices for minorities and low to moderate income populations.

Redlining is the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas.Ã'  The most devastating form of redlining, and the most common use of the term, refers to mortgage discrimination.Ã'  The term redlining was coined in the late 1960s by community activists in Chicago.Ã'  It describes the practice of marking a red line on a map to delineate the area where banks would not invest.Ã'  During the heyday of redlining these areas were most frequently minority inner city neighborhoods. (Wikipedia)

ACORN Housing provides one-on-one mortgage loan counseling, first time homebuyer classes, and helps obtain affordable mortgages through their unique lending partnerships.Ã'  They also provide counseling about protecting yourself from predatory lending.Ã'  ACORN's services are free of charge and available to all.

"Sometimes people are so used to hearing 'no' that when they hear 'yes' they become very excited and throw common sense out the window," says Brooklin.Ã' After completing their free homeowner buyer's program, clients receive a fixed rate 30-40 year loan with no prepayment penalties from Bank of America.Ã'  "It's one of the best loans out there," says Brooklin.Ã'  Bank of America is one of the banks they have a working relationship with and the ACORN Housing Atlanta program has a 97% success rate.

Many of the ACORN Housing offices around the country are multilingual.Ã'  "If a client comes in who is unable to speak English we have resources to find a translator to assist us in helping them become informed consumers," says Brooklin.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are now over one million African immigrants in the United States.Ã'  The Census Bureau says more than 50 percent of them entered and settled in the country between 1990 and 2000.Ã'  For them and immigrants to the U.S. from around the world, the American Dream continues to be a concept that speaks to the very core of their being; "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."Ã'  This dream like any concept remains a viable reality with a little help from friends like ACORN Housing and the many other responsible home buying and foreclosure prevention programs.

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Additional Resources

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) www.acorn.org
National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) www.ncrc.org

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