For Miriam Vazquez Montgomery, homeownership had always been a dream.

Until recently, the single mother lived with her four children in a 1971 mobile home on Tucson's south side. She bought it four years ago with tax-return money, but still paid $500 a month for a parking space and utilities.

She earns minimum wage - $7.80 an hour - working full time at a deli, and makes ends meet only with help from her extended family in California, her church and credit cards.

But with financial assistance and credit counseling from the Primavera Foundation's "Her Family" homeownership program for women with daughters, she boosted her credit score and saved $5,000 toward a down payment. Primavera matched her savings three-to-one, and she put down $20,000 on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in South Tucson. Her family moved in this week.

Vazquez Montgomery, whose children range in age from 10 to 19, says she's eager to knock on her neighbors' doors to introduce herself, and get cooking in her spacious kitchen.

"My little kids always say, 'When are we moving to a real house?'" she says. "I'm happy. My dream is going to come true."

Achieving homeownership can be transformative, particularly for female-headed households coming from generations of poverty, says Primavera CEO Peggy Hutchison.

"We see a lot of people who no one in their family has ever owned a home before," she says. "There's also an emotional empowerment when a single mom accomplishes something that many people said, 'You can't do that.' They've done it, and they've shown their children they've done it."

Homeownership not only helps individuals build wealth, but it also causes a ripple effect of financial benefits for local government and neighborhoods, including thousands in property taxes, Hutchison says.

Since July 2012, Primavera has helped 102 families buy homes. Over the next 10 years, those homeowners will pay an estimated $56,000 in local government fees and taxes, and $113,000 in title fees and other settlement fees, says Primavera Chief Compliance and IT Officer Cammie Dirrim.

The effort is particularly crucial now that homeownership rates in Tucson, and across the state, are falling, housing advocates say. Homeownership in Arizona peaked in 2006 at 72 percent, which was nearly 3 percent higher than the national average. But during the housing crisis, homeownership here dropped faster than the U.S. rate, down to 65 percent, fueled by thousands of foreclosures, says an Arizona Housing Alliance report.

In the city of Tucson, homeownership rates are even lower, dropping to 50 percent in 2011 from almost 55 percent in 2009, Census data say.

Homeownership can boost neighborhood stability and is linked to better outcomes for children. A 2001 study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that, even after controlling for social and economic variables, owning a home - versus renting - improved the quality of the home environment, children's level of emotional support and children's academic performance and behavior.

Homeowners are more likely to invest in maintaining their properties, as well as volunteer for neighborhood watch programs, says a 2012 homeownership report from the National Association of Realtors.

A study published in a 2009 issue of Real Estate Economics pointed to stability - not just homeownership - as the key to improving outcomes for children. It found the improvement in high school drop-out rates for children of homeowners, compared with renters, disappeared when renters have lived in one place for more than 10 years.

Vazquez Montgomery's eldest daughter, Zurisaday Balderas, 19, looks forward to that stability and has been inspired by her mother's improved money-management skills.

"It made me feel like I have to take care of my money, too," says Balderas, a student at the University of Arizona. "I have to watch what I'm spending."

After moving five times in the past 10 years, Balderas doesn't even mind that she'll still be sharing a room with her little sister, who is 10, in their new home.

"It's going to feel like it's ours," she says, "and we won't have to be moving all the time."

Contact reporter Emily Bregel at 807-7774 or On Twitter: @EmilyBregel.