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Homeownership That Lasts

Enduring long hours and even working through vacations, Li Wen worked tirelessly to save up for a home in New York City. She and her family of four had been renting an apartment for almost 13 years. With a sizable amount of her income paying for rent every month, Li faced many financial hurdles. Though she understood homeownership would be better than constantly renting, she lacked any support system to help her navigate New York City’s competitive real estate market.

Determined to become a first-time homebuyer, Li talked to former apartment tenants, and asked for advice on the transition from renting to homebuying. Hearing about Asian American for Equality (AAFE) and their first-time homebuyer programs, Li applied and joined in hopes that the program would help her. Once the program began, Li started her homebuying education under the guidance of her assigned counseling officer Su Kwan. Li learned about the nuances of homebuying, including homebuying fees, closing costs and procedures, home maintenance and preparing for monthly mortgage payments. With additional monetary support from AAFE’s first-time homebuyer program, Li went through her homebuying process with greater ease. After looking for homes around Manhattan and Queens, Li settled in and successfully bought her first home in downtown Brooklyn.

This upcoming October 2017 will mark the 10-year anniversary of Li Wen’s first home purchase. When asked about her feelings, she remarked: “I know it’s been 10 years, but it still feels like we just moved in yesterday.”

From Bankruptcy to First Time Homeowner

Ms. Quinones was a hopeful homebuyer who came to Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) in late 2009, still recovering from financial hardships and having filed bankruptcy a year and a half earlier.  She joined a homebuyer orientation and counseling session, where NHN provided an affordability analysis, informed her that she’d need to wait at least 4 years since her bankruptcy was discharged, and provided her with tips to re-establish a strong credit history in the meantime.  Eventually, NHN also helped Ms. Quinones join the First Home Club matching savings program through HSBC, which allowed her to receive a $7,500 matching grant, a great help as she worked on her budgeting and saving towards a downpayment.  When she was ready to purchase an affordable co-op in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 2013, NHN helped her obtain a SONYMA mortgage with a discounted interest rate.  By an additional stroke of luck, NHN was also able to help her obtain a $30,000 grant from the Wells Fargo CityLift Downpayment Assistance Program.  NHN staff have run into Ms. Quinones several times since she closed, and she continues to express how happy she is with her apartment and with the counseling assistance that she received.

"Equal Doses of Desire and Self-Discipline"

Ms. Valeria Sanchez, a divorced mother of four, attended Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement's (HCCI) Home Buyer Education Workshop in the spring of 2014 and learned the steps involved in buying a home.  HCCI’s financial coach worked closely with Ms. Sanchez, and with equal doses of desire and self-discipline she successfully raised her credit score by 60 points AND increased her savings by eliminating wasteful spending. Shortly afterward she began working with a real estate agent to find an affordable home.  Through her homeownership education course at HCCI she received a Home Buyer Education Certificate of Completion, allowing Ms. Sanchez to obtain an affordable mortgage product for first-time buyers that provided her with a $5000 closing cost grant and no PMI (private mortgage insurance).

Finally On the Path To Homeownership

Jimmy and Tahisha Smith wanted to buy a home for several years. Although Jimmy earned a decent income, he had no credit history.  Because of monthly living expenses, the couple had managed to save very little money.  They both attended HCCI’s Home Buyer Education Workshop in the fall of 2013 and learned effective strategies to increase their monthly savings and how to establish credit histories.  Their home advisor told them it would take some time - but the couple practiced patience.  After taking the HCCI workshop they were finally on the path to homeownership.  They continued to increase their savings and, by making smart decisions, Jimmy’s credit score consistently improved, eventually breaking 700.  Jimmy and Tahisha found an ideal home within their price range and were able to secure a mortgage for the property.

One Aspiring Homeowner

One aspiring homeowner, Michelle Bueno, said “housing counseling made the key difference in her ability to buy a home."

The Hempstead, New York resident first sought help in 2010 at the Long Island Housing Partnership in Hauppauge. The program receives grants for housing counseling through various grants from lenders, local and state agencies as well as private corporations and foundations.

Bueno, 42, met with her housing counselor, JoAnn Massaro, who advised her to clear up credit problems and build up her savings in advance of beginning the home buying process. JoAnn spent time working with Michelle over the course of time, offering support and advice as needed.

Five years later, after paying down old debts, Bueno is on track to buy a three-bedroom town house to be built in North Hempstead, New York. The home's sale price is nearly $315,000, but JoAnn Massaro helped her get $118,000 in local, county and state grants, in addition to approval for a low-interest mortgage through a state program for first-time home buyers.

The counselor urged her to "not give up, go forward and do everything you need to do," recalled Bueno, who works as a surgical technologist and has two sons, ages 6 and 11. "I was determined to do the right thing for myself and my children." At this time Michelle and her family are anticipating moving into their new home in New Cassel, Long Island by the end of this year as soon as the construction is complete.

Ms. Anita J. is a single mother with three dependents.  She attended the Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (HCCI) Home Buyer Education Workshop.  While attending the workshop, Ms. J met regularly with her counselor to discuss her progress towards achieving her goal of homeownership and to remain motivated throughout the process. Through the workshop Ms. J learned how to establish a monthly household budget in order to reduce her living expenses and to increase her savings. Together with her counselor they also developed a strategy to lower her credit debt and increased her score. Within 12 months Ms. J was mortgage ready.

During the seminar she learned about several grant programs and applied for the Federal Home Loan Bank of NY's First Home Club savings program which would provide eligible applicants a matching grant of $4 for every 41 they saved. The maximum savings amount is $1875 and they will match it with $7500. Participants must save with the program for a minimum of 10 months and use the same lender for your mortgage.

She started working with a real estate agent. After a few months of diligently searching, she eventually found a beautiful and even better affordable three bedroom coop apartment in Harlem! She made an offer that was accepted. Later she was approved by the board to purchase the unit.

Ms. J. also was eligible to use the Home First Down Payment Assistance program offered through NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).  This grant is a forgivable loan that will provide 6% of the home buyer’s purchase price up to $15,000. She received a grant for $12,240. However, she could not apply for this grant until after she has a sales contract and a mortgage commitment from her lender.  Ms. J. thanked HCCI for assisting her through a very complicated and rigorous process and said “Without the assistance of my counselor, I didn’t believe homeownership was possible.” 

Charmaine is an immigrant from Trinidad who arrived in the United States at the age of 19 with $100 in her pocket, no friends or relatives in the area, and limited education. During her first few years in New York, she bounced around from apartment to apartment, sometimes sleeping in people’s closets. After getting her GED, Charmaine worked various jobs until eventually becoming an office administrator. In 2013, Charmaine looked for a bigger apartment for herself and her then seven-year-old son. Finding few affordable rental options, she contemplated the idea of homeownership. As a single mother, she often felt that the odds were against her. But through tenacity and hard work with Chhaya CDC, Charmaine was able to layer three grants to secure her home in 2015.