Opening Doors to Homeownership: Fannie Mae Foundation Relies on Education, Outreach to Help Minority, Low-Income Families Become Homeowners

Article excerpt

Since the fall of 1999, Stacey Davis Stewart has presided as president and chief executive officer over the Fannie Mae Foundation based in Washington, D. C. As head of the nation's largest foundation devoted to affordable housing and community development, Stewart oversees foundation spending that is expected to total $115 million in 2002. In addition to projects that create affordable homeownership opportunities and establishes community development initiatives, the foundation funds research at colleges, universities, and think tanks that explores the economic and social dimensions of housing and community development. A former investment banker and former executive with the Fannie Mae Corp., Stewart is credited with leading the creation of a Web-based resource for community development known as KnowledgePlex. The Knowledgeplex Web site was launched in October 2001.

Last month, Black Issues In Higher Education talked to Stewart in her Washington office about housing research, affordable housing and minority homeownership.

BI: Why is the sponsorship of housing research an important part of the Fannie Mae Foundation mission?

SDS: One of the things that the Fannie Mae Foundation does is provide leadership in the field of affordable housing. And one of the most important ways we do that is through financial support to a lot of nonprofit housing groups through grants and loans we make. But to be a real leader in the field also means providing education and hopefully helping shape opinion about the way people should think about the issue of housing. And in order to be credible in that effort, it's very important for us to have research that is rigorous, and that can demonstrate our knowledge of the field and communicate the facts about the housing situation in America so that people will understand how to make sound and reasonable decisions based on those facts.

BI: Do you think the role of housing research is well understood by the public and policy-makers?

SDS: I think the role of housing research is well understood by a lot of folks. I think people generally understand that there's a need for these issues to be very carefully and thoughtfully explored, and for people to understand and to be able to rely upon experts who can inform people objectively of what is going on in the housing field.

The thing that may not be as well understood is how sometimes those findings get communicated. In many cases, research can be so academically focused that it really doesn't convey well to non-academics--those in the public sector and other policy-makers, etc., who may not be as familiar with some of the terms that are used in the housing field and may not be accustomed to reading academic-type documents. Often the research has to be distilled, communicated and conveyed in a way that means something and can be absorbed and understood by someone who is not as well-versed on the issue as an academic who researches these issues day in and day out.

BI: How would you describe the Fannie Mae Foundation's efforts to boost minority homeownership?

SDS: The Fannie Mae Foundation is very focused on creating opportunities through education, through outreach, and through a variety of other ways to increase homeownership overall, but in particular among minorities and low-income families, immigrant families and others.

And the reason for that is the homeownership rate for minority families is dramatically less than it is for other families in this country. The national homeownership rate is about 68 percent. For African Americans, it's 47 percent. For Latino families, it's 48 percent. And so there's a huge gap that needs to be made up in terms of minority families being able to own a piece of the American dream the way other families have been able to do. And so, we have made it our priority and commitment to do that.

Now, there are several ways that we do that. …