Is it possible to go from homelessness to homeownership? At Charlotte Family Housing (CFH), we say yes!
Homeownership is a proven tool to build the emotional, psychological, and physical health of a family and their children. It is also a tool that builds equity over time, allowing owners to borrow against that equity for tuition or other advancement opportunities. Homeowners can create generational wealth for their children and beyond. Yet, homeownership remains a challenge for families who live within neighborhoods harmed by racist redlining policies created by the federal government with the cooperation of the banking and real estate industries.
CFH employs a three-phase program that helps working families experiencing homelessness graduate from our agency prepared to navigate the socioeconomic landscape successfully. The first phase is the pre-housing phase; families enter our shelter where they are now safe and can begin healing from the trauma of poverty and homelessness. The second phase is the subsidized housing phase; we work with area property owners to place families in affordable, subsidized units. The third and final phase occurs when families graduate from subsidized housing and move into the unsubsidized units, which they now are able to afford because the families have become self-sufficient. They have also had at least two years of supportive services, including trauma-informed clinical counseling with our master’s-level clinical social workers and other therapeutic care.
During CFH’s intake process, most families express their desire to live in affordable and sustainable rental units. Some of our families express homeownership as a goal when they come into the program. We know there is room for our agency to have a more significant impact in this area. Approximately 15% of our graduates have reported they have bought or are pursuing purchasing a home within two years of graduating from our program. One of our clients, Jay, shared her journey from homelessness to homeownership.
In April 2019, Jay, a Charlotte business owner, faced troubling and unexpected times. She received a ten-day eviction notice from the owner of her residence of five years. Jay then lost sight in one eye due to an accident, making managing her career exceedingly difficult. Shortly thereafter, the tragic loss of Jay’s life partner became another trauma she had to face. Jay lacked a staunch support network to help her meet the challenges she faced. She had a family to provide for and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. On the brink of hopelessness, she found CFH, which became a beacon of hope; she could now see that light. CFH presented a new opportunity to get safe, stable, and sustainable housing. We helped Jay access childcare, allowing her to change jobs, work efficiently, and achieve her family’s survival. Through our agency, she was able to rent a condominium from one of our valued housing partners. Jay swiftly took advantage of the many classes and workshops we offered. A CFH scholarship helped the family begin regular therapy sessions. Jay also enrolled in financial education workshops and now earns a living wage.
On July 28, 2021, Jay graduated from our program. She found a healthy balance between mental health maintenance and successfully managing her small business. Jay’s life, like her housing, has found stability. Her budgeting, saving, and spending habits have improved tremendously. With the preapproval of a conventional mortgage, she moved into her dream home in the fall of 2021.
Jay states, “This has been such a transformational experience for me. With a willingness to take a leap of faith, determination, and support from a program like CFH, the opportunities are endless. I will be forever grateful.”
At CFH, we are expanding our housing program so more families can have the option to choose the best path for themselves regarding affordable, safe, and sustainable housing. We help them achieve financial self-sufficiency and long-term housing stability, which are some of the pillars of our program. Participants exit our program with skills, tools, knowledge, and increased income, allowing them to decide between renting an apartment or buying a house. Moreover, they will have the skills to maintain stable housing moving forward.
CFH refers families pursuing homeownership to first-time home-buyer programs that can educate these families on the steps needed to complete their journeys to homeownership. These programs include courses from Dream Key Partners, Community Link, Habitat for Humanity, and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. All these programs include access to down-payment assistance and are FDIC-backed lenders. The challenge all these curricula face is that, as used by these entities, they teach based on an assumption of financial literacy that is beyond our families’ current knowledge base. We believe it is transformational to empower these families to make informed decisions on their housing options with all available information on home-buying. We want to demystify the homeownership experience and ensure that families fully understand what it means to purchase and maintain a home. Our goal is to empower working families experiencing homelessness to successfully leverage that information so they will make informed decisions and achieve the American dream of homeownership.