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Homeownership: The key to financial well-being and economic security for our state

Sarah Godlewski

Thought Leadership Thursday Article

Homeownership: The key to financial well-being and economic security for our state
July 15, 2021
Sarah Godlewski
State Treasurer
Wisconsin

Dear Colleagues,

One of my primary objectives as State Treasurer is to foster the financial well-being and economic security for the people of Wisconsin, and for many, this means the chance to one day own their home. For the average homeowner, a primary home accounts for a significant portion of the total wealth of a family in the United States, and is often the largest asset on a household balance sheet. Yet, many are unable to achieve homeownership as stagnant wages, student debt, high housing costs, and racial inequities make it almost impossible. Since the mid-2000s, the homeownership rate in Wisconsin has dropped by over 7%. Additionally, homeowners may experience an unexpected event like an illness or lay-off that can quickly spiral and lead to foreclosure.

In response, I created the Treasurers’ Homeowners Task Force that brought together a diverse coalition of nonprofit leaders, Realtors, housing experts, government officials, lenders, and legal advocates committed to equitable solutions that would prevent foreclosures and improve homeownership. The Task Force also consisted of local and municipal treasurers who are often overlooked in homeownership work, but bring invaluable insight to struggling homeowners as a result of their oversight with property taxes; often an early sign that a homeowner is in trouble is a missed property tax payment.

Shortly after announcing the Task Force, the pandemic hit, and many Wisconsinites found themselves in a state of uncertainty and worried about their ability to pay their mortgage and property taxes. During the Great Recession of 2009, we saw how the lack of programs and tools led to significant foreclosures for many communities across our state, and we did not want to relive lessons of the past.

The Task Force stepped up and instead of recommendations, developed solutions without any additional resources from the state or federal government. I am proud of the work that was done to help Wisconsin homeowners to include:

● Foreclosure Prevention: Initiated the COVID-19 Foreclosure Prevention program that provided cash assistance, financial counseling, and wrap-around support to COVID-impacted households who were newly delinquent on their property taxes and at long-term risk of losing their home. This program is now being expanded beyond COVID-19 impacted homeowners to provide assistance to homeowners who are imminently facing foreclosure due to severely delinquent property taxes.

● Homeownership Statewide Network: Created a consortium of community organizations, housing counseling agencies, Realtors, lenders, and government leaders called Take Root Wisconsin. The mission of this statewide collaborative is to help improve homeownership with communities that are struggling to buy, fix, and stay in their homes. Through a regionalized partnership approach, Take Root Wisconsin will work to increase first-time homeownership and prevent foreclosures and also improve housing quality and safety.

● Taxpayer Empowerment: Developed a property tax web portal and education materials that provides easy-to-understand information on property taxes and interactive tools — such as web pages, sample documents, and teaching materials — for local treasurers, homeowners, teachers, students, and community members.

To learn more about these programs and the work of the Task Force, you can read our full Homeownership Report.

When we invest in homeownership, we invest in our communities and in the sustainable future of Wisconsin. We’ve learned that together we can make progress on this important issue that will help families build wealth and have more financial stability. If your state is working to improve homeownership, we’d love to learn more as we continue to innovate and expand.

Forward, (The Wisconsin Motto)

Sarah Godlewski
Wisconsin State Treasurer

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