Who Are the Homeowner Heroes?
When tracing our ancestral roots, we might find that the first homeowner hero of record was President Abraham Lincoln.
That’s because he signed the Homestead Act of 1862 into law, which was the first of several key federal programs that championed the concept of homeownership being a positive for our country.
The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of government-owned land to any family leader, including freed slaves at the time, with the lone requirement that the family live on the land, improve it and cultivate it to improve American agriculture.
It was one of the most impactful pieces of legislation of the 19th Century. Efforts to create Homestead legislation previously died in Congress as Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on the language of the legislation.
But, when southern Democrats seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, Republicans took control of Congress and adopted all sorts of legislation that they believed in, including banking and railroad legislation as well as homestead legislation.
The Homestead Act remained in effect until 1976, and in those 114 years, 10% of all U.S. lands were covered by the Homestead promise and 1.6 million individual claims were made.
The Homestead Act was an essential part of westward settlement after the Civil War, and really was the beginning of the concept of the American Dream of owning a home for your family.
As part of Home Ownership month, we are recognizing Homeowner Heroes through history and today.
Heroes today can be for something as small as mowing the lawn to brighten up the neighborhood; or helping to drive your elderly neighbor to the voting booth; or walking door-to-door to advocate for change in your community because you are invested in it.
But over the course of time, we’ve had some other Homeowner heroes too.
The Homestead Act may have been where it started, but it continued in other ways following the other great wars in which the United States were involved.
After the First World War, a public-relations campaign dubbed “Own Your Own Home” — originally launched by the National Association of Real Estate Boards was taken over by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1917 and became the first federal program explicitly aimed at encouraging home ownership.
There were no financial incentives offered to prospective home buyers or builders, so it was more of a promotional campaign, but it worked as it became more enticing to own a home than to rent a tenement in the big city.
The Labor Department handed out “We Own Our Own Home” buttons to schoolchildren, sponsored lectures on the topic at universities, and distributed posters and banners extolling the virtues of home ownership and pamphlets on how to get a home loan.
Following World War II the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was passed. You probably better know this piece of legislation as the G.I. Bill.
Signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another homeownership hero, the bill provided benefits for veterans who served during World War II who were not dishonorably discharged.
These benefits included money for education, low-interest loans to start small businesses and one year’s worth of unemployment compensation.
But one of the most important provisions of the Bill, was low interest, zero down payment home loans, with more favorable terms for new construction as opposed to existing homes.
This encouraged millions of Americans to move out of urban apartments and into suburban homes and by 1950, for the first time in American history, more than half of all Americans owned their own homes.
President John F. Kennedy was a homeownership hero as well, when he issued an executive order in 1961 that prohibited segregation in federally-owned or federally-funded properties.
President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, so he couldn’t see his full plan come to fruition, but his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, picked up where Kennedy left off and created the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 as part of his War on Poverty program and followed that by signing into law the Fair Housing Act of 1968, banning discrimination in housing based on race, religion, origin and gender.
President Barack Obama approved a multi-billion-dollar housing stimulus program in 2009 that included an initiative to help homeowners avoid foreclosure through refinancing and reduced monthly payments.
If and when HUD issues the final rules on the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act passed by Congress in 2016, President Donald Trump would be the latest Homeowner Hero to occupy the White House.
State and Local Homeowner Hereos
Since then, new programs are starting at the state level – like the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Accounts that have been created or are in the works in several states that allow individuals or families to save money tax-free over the course of several years to go toward the purchase of a first home, or to re-enter the housing market after having not owned a home in several years.
Parents and even grandparents can open those accounts for their children and grandchildren, so that when they are ready to buy their first home, they have the wherewithal to do it – making them homeowner heroes as well.
So, you see, homeowner heroes are everywhere in American history. From the homestead to the White House. From our military veterans to your next-door neighbor.
Homeownership helps build strong neighborhoods, better economies and helps improve our schools and create new and better jobs.
That’s why we have a month to celebrate it. That’s why we have homeowners to be recognized for what they do every day.
In doing so, we continue to build a path into the future for more great moments in homeownership history.