By Alison Rice. To those who believe that homeownership represents a ticket to a better life, the statistics are worrisome. Less than half of blacks and Hispanics own their own homes, compared with nearly three-quarters of whites.

Like President Clinton before him, President Bush wants to boost these numbers. His goal, as announced in June: 5.5 million more minority homeowners by 2010. Here's his plan:

  • Appropriating $200 million in down-payment assistance (an average grant of $5,000);
  • Offering $2.4 billion in tax credits to builders and developers for affordable housing;
  • Allowing low-income families to use their rental housing vouchers toward a down payment; and
  • Directing more capital toward low-income first-time buyers.

But it's hard to predict what will work. Bush's proposals, which are part of the 2003 federal budget, must make it through Congress before they are funded. The president has asked for down-payment assistance money before, with limited success: Congress granted only a fraction of the money he requested.And the issues involved are challenging. According to a HUD report, poor credit, limited savings, and language barriers can make homeownership an obstacle-strewn path for minority or low-income buyers. If the plan is funded, the dollars Bush allotted could make a difference. "The down-payment part sounds practical," says Alex von Hoffman, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies in Cambridge, Mass. "Sometimes the simplest thing to remedy is the lack of money." But, von Hoffman notes, there's more to homeownership than saving the down payment or landing the mortgage. Would-be homeowners and their lenders must remember to budget for utility bills, maintenance, property taxes, and unexpected repairs. That's been a problem in other areas, where generous lending standards have resulted in marginal home purchases that buyers couldn't really afford to maintain.

Homeownership Rates
Hispanics: 47.6%
Blacks: 48.0%
Other Races (including Asian-Americans): 53.7%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 74.3%

Caught in the gap: Nationally, 67.8 percent of Americans own their own homes, but minorities are far less likely to be among that group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.