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LaSonya Thompson's Lending Circle Success Story with HCCI

LaSonya Thompson is a force of nature. 

An effusive, vibrant attorney who works in the compliance and antitrust space, she had several goals when she heard about the Lending Circle program at Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI), funded by the New York Mortgage Coalition. 

LaSonya, an active member of HCCI member Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, wanted to begin laying the groundwork for becoming a homeowner by eliminating her student debt.

As a member of the creative class, she also wanted the freedom to pursue her artistic and entrepreneurial interest. She is currently launching the InterFaith Film and Music Festival to be held Nov 29-Dec 2

She also wanted to make sure that she had funds to participate in mission trips with Habitat for Humanity to needy parts of the world.

“Service helps me stay grounded and grateful for everything I have,” she explains. “I meet great people and spend time away from the grind of the New York City rat race. When you go somewhere where people do not have basic food, clothing or shelter, you appreciate it more.”

LaSonya’s Lending Circle was a little shorter than a full year and included nine people—working, semi-retired, families. Everyone had different situations but all were jumpstarting their savings.

Although homeownership was what brought LaSonya to the lending circles, through her participation she realized she had more work to do.

“The prices are cost prohibitive.  You absolutely need the right fit, the right neighborhood, enough room—and to have enough for maintenance and upkeep so you are prepared for a rainy day.”

So now, she is preparing to get a home by getting her financial house in order.

“In addition to cutting expenses, the circle also made me look at my streams of income and I took some online courses that introduced me to stocks and bonds to increase my revenue.  The Lending Circle helps you get in the right type of savings mindset no matter what your situation.”

She has recommended the program to friends, but understands that it is not for everyone.  In her case, she is also looking to the future.  Although she does not have children she is interested in wealth building in order to create a legacy so that she can assist her extended family.

“I feel like with the Lending Circle that I am recycling my savings account.  I am giving the savings into my own bank, I am empowering someone else to achieve their goals at the same time I am achieving mine.”

LaSonya thinks the program has great potential—maybe in Microlending for business or for those in the gig economy as some of the bank and even non-bank lenders still have very tough requirements re APR and credit scores.

And although you must be 18 to join the Lending Circle, LaSonya believes that someday it might be a great tool for kids.

“I love the idea of lending circles for young people who often don’t feel that sense of community—maybe with $5 or $10 but just to get them saving at an early age.”

The online educational courses on investing were attractive because they helped her explore stocks and options as a means to diversify her income sources and enjoy new ventures like her festival.

“Hopefully someday it will be profitable but this first year it is about seeing what potential the event has, meeting prospective investors, and figuring out future plans.”

She sums up her experience with Lending Circles this way:

“My experience was life changing because I was excited about getting my credit score up.  The Lending Circle served as my accountability partner to stay focused on eliminating student loan debt.  I was in good company meeting other individuals who were serious about legacy building and wealth creation.  I highly recommend this program!”


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.