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Korean families can be closer to homes

Wells Fargo and Freddie Mac join effort to help local members of this community purchase their first house.

August 24, 2003|Lew Sichelman | Special to The Times

Korean families in Los Angeles and Orange counties will get a leg up on the American dream with a $20-million homeownership initiative announced this week.

The program is designed to address the needs of Koreans by providing bilingual information about the home-buying and financing processes.

It is said to be the first program in the country to offer comprehensive education and counseling in Korean.

The initiative also will pair participants with real estate agents who speak the language and offer mortgages that address income, cash and credit issues.

"Homeownership is a dream for all Koreans," said Hyepin Im, president of Korean Churches for Community Development. "Now we will be able to assist those who have low incomes, no savings or credit problems."

According to the latest census figures, nearly a quarter-million Koreans live in the greater L.A. area -- 185,500 in Los Angeles County and 55,600 in Orange County -- but their ownership rate is far below that of other minorities.

About two-thirds of Chinese households in the Los Angeles area are owners, as are 62% of white households. But the Korean ownership rate is 43%.

Providing educational materials in the Korean language is aimed at helping the estimated 35% of local Koreans who are not bilingual as well as English-speaking Koreans who do not understand the process, said Im, whose group links about 300 churches with the community.

About 70% of Korean Americans are connected to churches.

Last November, about 800 church members attended a home buyer's fair sponsored by KCCD, said the group's Charlotte Roh.

About 91% of those who visited the initial fair were potential first-time buyers, said Roh, showing that Korean Americans represent an "untapped market."

Under the Korean Dream to Reality Initiative, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage has agreed to accept nontraditional credit references and address other challenges so that buyers can qualify without having to put up any money of their own.

In addition, mortgage giant Freddie Mac has agreed to purchase up to $20 million worth of the no-down-payment mortgages from the lender, thereby ensuring a continuous supply of funds for additional purchasers.

"We're committed to supporting the Korean community, and we have dedicated resources to provide outreach to this and other ethnic populations," said Desolina Avila, a Wells Fargo regional manager.

For further information, contact KCCD at (714) 879-8952 or (714) 879-8935.

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