Homeownership: The American dream that won’t die

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CHICAGO, Illinois — After burying her husband, Tracey Richardson took all her paintings off the walls.

She would have packed up the rest of her rental apartment, too, if she could afford her escape plan.

“After he died, I wanted a house real bad,” Richardson, 45, said. The kind of home they lived in when she and Lonnie were first married. Or the house her grandparents owned, where she stayed as a child when her mother couldn’t take care of her.

Richardson, however, is still trying to get there. She has a better job now, making about $19,000 a year working as a part-time assistant at her cousin’s dental office. She earns extra money styling hair on the side and has worked to improve her credit score, too. But a home of her own is still out of reach.

Before the housing crisis, lawmakers and lenders might have gone out of their way to help aspiring homeowners like Richardson. In the name of expanding affordable homeownership, banks made record numbers of loans, both good and bad, to lower-income Americans.

In 2007 alone, more than 930,000 people earning less than $50,000 got mortgages, according to data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The subprime market spawned mortgages that didn’t even require borrowers to verify their incomes, and lenders deliberately targeted African-Americans and other minorities.

It’s now far more difficult for those from modest means – or anyone with a less-than-pristine credit score – to buy a home. And the barriers to homeownership are especially high in neighborhoods like Bronzeville, the African-American enclave on the south side of Chicago where Richardson lives.

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