How two friends gained the know-how and confidence to become homeowners

July 20th, 2021
Emma Howland-Bolton and her dog on the porch of her home in Virginia Park

Emma Howland-Bolton and Sheena Crenshaw have been friends since coming to Detroit a dozen years ago as teachers. Both are East Coast transplants. Emma is from Brooklyn, Sheena from Philadelphia. Both have grown to love Detroit and are passionate that this is now their home. So, they decided last year that they would buy a home together in a city neighborhood. But before acquiring a home, they understood that they needed to acquire more knowledge about what homeownership involves.

“Though I wanted to become a homeowner, I had no idea how to do so,” said Emma, 35. “In my own extended family, almost no one had owned a home, and the process of buying a home seemed intimidating. A part of me thought that I was going to be trapped in renting for the rest of my life.”

Emma and Sheena enrolled in our free, monthly Homebuyer Education Workshop in January. The 8-hour class teaches the nuts and bolts of the homebuying process and enables participants to earn a Homebuyer Education Certificate that is required for many downpayment assistance and other incentive programs. Last year, more than 400 aspiring homebuyers took the class, and our program has helped hundreds of families become homeowners in the last few years. Both Emma and Sheena commend the class for providing concrete guidance about the steps to gain and sustain homeownership.

“The information we learned is very important and not necessarily intuitive,” said Sheena, 35.

After completing the class and starting to look for homes, Emma and Sheena concluded that their different geographical needs would require respective homes. Emma wanted to be close to the elementary school where she teaches in the Virginia Park neighborhood, whereas Sheena wanted to be close to the elementary school her daughter attends on the east side.

Before getting a mortgage, Emma needed to improve her credit standing.

“I wasn’t financially literate before,” Emma said. “In fact, I didn’t even own a credit card until two years ago.”

Emma reviewed her credit reports with Teresa Torres, Senior Housing Counselor at Southwest Solutions. Teresa helped Emma raise her credit score appreciably.

Working with a realtor, Emma found the home she wanted in Virginia Park. She purchased it for $160,000, closing in late May. Her mortgage is with Huntington Bank. The house is a century-old, six-bedroom home that had been vacant for three years, but was in move-in condition.

“It’s a cool neighborhood where everybody knows each other, and I want to be a good neighbor” Emma said. “I think this is going to be my home forever!”

Sheena Crenshaw on the porch of her home on the east side

Sheena closed on her home in mid-June, paying $157,000 for the two-bedroom house. With the Homebuyer Education Certificate she earned through the homebuyer class, Sheena qualified for a downpayment assistance grant from Bank of America, where she secured her mortgage. Her monthly mortgage payment, with taxes and insurance included, is less than what she had been paying in rent.

“My block has significant blight, but I believe it will get better,” said Sheena, who now works at City Year as an Impact Manager. “To be collectively invested in a block and neighborhood, that’s where the magic begins and community grows.”

Participating in the movement to promote inclusive community is essential to both Sheena and Emma. Both also believe that homeownership is important to stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods, and to enable residents to build equity and generational wealth.

For both, too, the achievement of homeownership helps redeem a past and personal misfortune. For Sheena, it was seeing the house in which she grew up in Philadelphia fall into foreclosure. For Emma, it was the bout of homelessness she experienced as a teenager.

Though they bought separate homes, Emma and Sheena not only continue to support each other’s homeownership journeys, they are organizing a group for single women homeowners to share knowledge and connect to resources to encourage successful homeownership.



Our Homebuyer Education Workshop meets virtually on the second Friday every month. The class is free. To learn more, including how to register, click here.

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