By Alison Rice.

2002 Walk-Through

Builders often say they help their customers achieve the American Dream. But some people need a little extra assistance landing a place of their own--down-payment assistance, credit counseling, or just a decent place to live in a neighborhood that's safe and affordable. So simple--yet so difficult, as anyone involved in affordable housing knows. But here are a few people and organizations that are making it work.

Sr. Ann Rene McConn. Concerned by the scarcity of affordable housing for single parents with children, this Catholic sister in 1985 started Cincinnati Housing Partners, a nonprofit housing group that rehabs rundown properties and builds new homes on vacant lots, selling them to working families for about $70,000. The group has built roughly 140 homes during its history.

Milwaukee Public Schools. This Wisconsin school district gets high marks for looking beyond the classroom in the city's Washington Park neighborhood. A $20-million redevelopment plan includes not only a new elementary school, but $9 million worth of new and rehabbed housing in the area. Nonprofit groups will construct the homes, which are expected to cost $75,000 to $100,000, and incentives will be offered to school employees and families of students.

HANDS. This Orange, N.J.-based housing nonprofit focuses on the biggest, baddest eyesores in challenging, but not blighted, neighborhoods, rehabbing them for buyers of "modest means." Those buyers, typically families with household incomes between $28,000 and $48,000, come from HANDS' Home Buyers Club, where they attend classes on maintenance, mortgages, and home buying while they save money.

Tony and Mary Miller. The Millers, owners of Cincinnati-based Jancoa Janitorial Services, provide their 200-plus employees with homeownership classes through a partnership with the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati. So far, five of Miller's workers have bought a house after completing the program, including a woman in her mid-50s who's the first generation in her family to own a home.

Tim Flynn. A lumberyard owner in Grand Rapids, Mich., Flynn has gone head-to-head with timber companies over destruction of old-growth forests in his state. Flynn wants old-growth forests preserved and speaks out on the topic frequently. A businessman who is also an activist for change, he suggests that the timber industry has lied for years about practicing sustainable forestry--and needs to work smarter.

Shaquille O'Neal. The NBA star grew up in subsidized housing. This year, he purchased about $100 million worth of Section 8 properties in Colorado. He says he plans to improve and rent them out, to keep housing affordable for low-income families. "It would be easy for me to develop a housing community around a golf course or buy strip malls," O'Neal told Blethen Newspapers, "but that's not how I want my book to go."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). To attract teachers, police, and firemen to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., the senator supported a Fannie Mae program offering $5,000 forgivable loans for home buyers. He also promoted a state program offering a $75 rebate for homeowners who trade in old air conditioners for more efficient models, reducing energy consumption.