Home ownership has long been considered part of the American Dream, but for some people, owning a home might seem to be the impossible dream. Millennials, for instance, are additionally challenged by finding quality, affordable homes that can fit into budgets crunched by high student loan debt. (Here in Maine, the average student debt is $30,000, with typical student loan payments topping $300 monthly.)

Complicating the picture, homebuyers are hindered by rising home prices and low inventory.

In Portland, it’s particularly difficult to find affordable property. According to realtor.com, the median listing price of a home in Portland is $375,000, with the West End at $326,000, downtown at $378,000 and the Eastern Prom a breathtaking $582,000. Imagine having to save $64,600 for the required 20 percent down payment (to avoid the cost of mortgage insurance) on that $326,000 West End property.

This is a discouraging situation for prospective first-time homebuyers who might believe their hard work, determination, and initiative aren’t enough to help them attain their piece of the American dream.

But this issue is more than a personal challenge. Lagging home ownership has a ripple effect on local economies, and as a result, local communities.

Why home ownership matters:  Home ownership is important to economic well-being. First, owning a home is one of the best ways to establish credit, build wealth and remain financially secure. Second, the economy benefits every time a house changes hands.

Local businesses get a boost from all the activities that go into buying and selling a home, from staging a home for open houses to hiring someone to help pack and move to remodeling, landscaping and furnishing a new home.

Third, communities where home ownership is high benefit. Schools are often better, the crime rate is lower, and homeowners tend to be more actively involved in the community. Plus, according to the Joint Center of Housing Studies for Harvard University, divorce rates are lower among homeowners, and children who grow up in a homeowner’s household perform better in school.

So what can be done to help more potential homebuyers buy their first home?

Most lenders require 10 percent down, and will charge monthly mortgage insurance when buyers bring less than 20 percent to the closing table. While most lenders look for at least 10 percent, there are a few lenders with more innovative approaches to first-time home-buying.

For instance, Fannie Mae® has a HomeReady® program that offers 3 percent down payment for creditworthy low- and moderate-income borrowers, and for financing on properties in low-income communities. For those who have served our country, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs offers VA home loan programs to eligible service members and veterans with no down payments or mortgage insurance required.

Some banks have specialty loan programs, such as KeyBank’s Key Community Mortgage program. This program provides 100 percent financing (no down payment) to eligible low- and moderate-income borrowers as well as borrowers of any income level who are buying primary residences in certain parts of their community.

Locally, that would include borrowers buying a primary residence in Portland and most of the peninsula. This program is available to first-time homebuyers and previous homeowners who have not owned a home in the past 12 months. In the interest of building stronger, vibrant communities, KeyBank has committed to lending $5 billion in community mortgages nationally in the next five years.

So, while homeownership might seem out of reach to some people dreaming of buying their first home, there are programs and options that may help bring those dreams to life.

A conversation with a trusted mortgage specialist – particularly one who understands the local market and demonstrates a strong commitment to the community – is a great first step toward achieving the American Dream.

Nicholas Brouillette is vice president and New England regional sales manager for KeyBank Mortgage. He can be reached at 207-874-7035 or at [email protected]. This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice