Home ownership grew among white middle-class families after World War II when access to credit and government programs made buying houses affordable. Black families were largely left out because of discrimination, and the effects are still being felt today.
I was reminded of this reading an article called Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth by Henry Louis Gates in the NYT. He noted,
I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.
Unfortunately, blacks were still facing the full effects of racism in our country in the periods after both World Wars, times in our country's history when home ownership grew rapidly. Thus, a large proportion of their population was left out of this wave.
Home ownership is key to advancing in society today. The ability to tap equity in their home allows the owner to put the next generation through college and into their own home. There is a direct correlation between parents who own a home and children who attend college. Having a college degree enables people to have better jobs and perpetuates the cycle of success. This is evidenced by the information documented by Gates. As Gates says,
People who own property feel a sense of ownership in their future and their society. They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a culture of tenancy do not.
I would say that based on this, initiatives to provide the opportunity for people in poverty to move towards home ownership are key. Would it make sense to turn Section 8 into some sort of rent-to-own program? Would it be more worthwhile to give people a home rather than paying their rent for years on end?