The Business Journal of Milwaukee
By: Kent Stolt
September 14, 2012
Ask anyone what the key is to living the American Dream and chances are two of the top answers would be buying a home and obtaining higher education. In both cases, access to the right financial resources is critical.
The United Way of Greater Milwaukee's Individual Development Account (IDA) program, in conjunction with the efforts of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Select Milwaukee, a nonprofit counseling program for homebuyers, is helping minority and low-income applicants gain the financial stability needed to pursue their dreams.
By providing eligible participants with matching dollars for every dollar they save themselves, the IDA program offers a valuable monetary boost to those who want to buy that first home or attend a postsecondary school. More important, it gives participants a clear incentive to save money and build up credit on their own.
The IDA program was launched in 2005 as part of the United Way's ongoing commitment to raise public funds required by the government before it will distribute federal grant money. Out of that grant money, and additional funds raised by United Way, the IDA can now match what participants put away in savings at a rate of $4 to $1 (up to $4,000) for first-time homebuyers and $6 to $1 for those enrolling in postsecondary education.
Under The United Way umbrella, Select Milwaukee acts as a partner administering the first-time home-buying part, while Boys & Girls Clubs handles the postsecondary education side.
Since 2005, according to Irma Yépez Klassen, associate director of Select Milwaukee, 230 families in Milwaukee have been able to purchase a home for the first time. And to date none of those have foreclosed. Of those IDA participants, she added, 92 percent are minority.
"The whole point of the (IDA) program is to engage families and get them used to the idea of paying themselves first," said Klassen. "Once they get into a pattern of saving, they begin to see how money can work for them, not against them."
What is good for the individual also is good for the community as a whole. While Select Milwaukee and Boys & Girls Clubs directly administer the funds, United Way closely monitors the outcomes of the disbursements. And according to Nicole Angresano, United Way's vice president of community impact, they like what they are seeing.
"It's been very successful for everyone involved," said Angresano. "Families that own homes are ultimately more stable families. They don't move around as much, their commitment to schooling improves, and down the road that leads to opportunities for higher income. Owning a home is the start of a very positive trend."
The IDA program is not a free ride. To qualify for matching funds, an applicant's household must have a net worth of less than $10,000. At the same time they must show proof of employment and make regular deposits into their savings account for a minimum of six consecutive months. Within two years they must save at least $1,000 on their own.
As any homeowner knows, the story doesn't end with money for a down payment. There are closing and home inspection costs, appliance purchases, fees for setting up utilities and, of course, property taxes. All those things a landlord was responsible for now fall on the shoulders of the homeowner. Select Milwaukee advisers help guide participants through the entire process.
"What the IDA did for me was instrumental in my getting a house," said Jacinta Shaw, who closed on her first home on March 30.
Shaw, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate and single mother starting out on her own, contacted Select Milwaukee two years ago and said it helped her understand the whole process.
"They worked with me in dealing with the lawyers, the (real estate agent), the home inspection, the lender, all of that," she said. "It showed me that if someone else is willing to help me like that, then I can certainly help myself."
On the education side, Jacqueline Zeledon, communications manager for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, said that as of April of this year 328 students, of whom about 90 percent are minority, have attended postsecondary education with help from matching dollars of the IDA program.