Anita Stafford, 53, never dreamt that she would have the chance to become a homeowner. Up until the deed was given over to her at a Detroit Land Bank event, Anita made certain to keep her hopes in check. But the moment the home officially became hers, a wellspring of exuberance rose from deep within and flushed her entire being.
A news videographer watched Anita’s reaction and asked her what she was feeling. Holding up the deed for the camera, she enthusiastically declared: “This is freedom!”
Later, sitting on her porch, Anita reflected further on what the moment meant. “I was transformed immediately when the deed was in my hands,” she said. “I felt a burst of energy, joy and relief. It was like I finally crossed the finish line after a long journey that I was unsure I could make.”
Anita is one of 99 people who became homeowners on July 17 through the Land Bank’s Occupied Buy-Back program. The program held an event to distribute deeds to individuals who had satisfied the program’s requirements. The program is available to those living in houses that the Land Bank came to possess due to tax foreclosure. To acquire the house, the occupant must pay a $1,000 purchase price, set aside $100 a month for one year into an escrow account to cover the property taxes, and maintain the property and utilities. The occupant must also complete homebuyer education and financial counseling workshops with one of the nonprofit organizations partnering with the Land Bank to implement the program. Anita attended the workshops offered by Southwest Solutions.
Anita moved into the house in northwest Detroit nine years ago. She paid rent through a Section 8 voucher that she secured after she could no longer work because her kidneys had begun to fail because of complications related to diabetes. A year after she moved in, the landlord stopped paying the property taxes. The Land Bank eventually foreclosed upon the home. Last fall, the Land Bank offered Anita the opportunity to participate in the Buy-Back program. She agreed, but also worried about how she could meet the financial requirements on her limited income and very little savings. She was divorced, lived by herself, and had no immediate family to help her, with the passing of her father and brother in the past year.
“It was a miracle that I came up with the $1,000 to buy the home,” Anita said. “First, I got a $600 check out of the blue from my dad’s nursing home because of an overpayment. Then I started pinching here and there, saving whatever I could for the rest of the purchase price and the monthly property tax payments.”
Anita credits the financial coaches at Southwest Solutions, Kathy Ralston and Evan Roarty-Collins, for helping her tighten her already tight budget and wring the dollars to meet her goals.
“It was very hard, and there were many times when I wanted to give up and just move into an apartment,” Anita said. “But so many good people encouraged and helped me. My church helped me pay for the medicine I need. Friends took me to my dialysis appointments. The block club shoveled my walk and cut my grass. They also boarded up the vacant house next to me so I could be safer. If not for all the help I was fortunate to receive, and God answering my prayers, I would not have gotten the home.”
Although Anita wanted the home, she also knew that it needed a lot of work, since the landlord not only neglected the taxes but also the repairs. Anita consulted with Kathy Ralston at Southwest Solutions. Kathy, who leads our Buy-Back program, advised her to apply for the City of Detroit’s 0% Home Repair Loan Program. Anita was able to obtain a $17,000 loan for 10 years with no interest.
At the Buy-Back event, there is a series of stations leading to receiving the deed. The first stop is the Fifth Third Bank table. Fifth Third administers the property-tax escrow accounts. At the table, Anita picked up her tax-payment check from Tawnya Rose, Vice President/Community Development Relationship Manager at the bank.
Aware of Anita’s struggle to become a homeowner, Tawnya commented: “Everyone deserves their piece of the American Dream.”
The Buy-Back program began in 2015, and by the end of this year it will have helped more than 350 families become homeowners. Of those, about 53 will have completed the partnership program with Southwest Solutions. To learn more about the Buy-Back program, contact the Land Bank at 1-844-BUY-DLBA.