Gerona Washington had been on Section 8 housing for nearly half her life. She is 64.
Gerona aspired to have a place of her own, but with a disability that restricted her ability to work, and with her limited income and assets, she knew that becoming a homeowner would be a difficult climb. She was determined to make it anyway.
Section 8 is a federal program that provides rental assistance to low-income households. The assistance is paid directly to private landlords. Gerona moved into a rental house on the west side in 1997 that accepted Section 8. Her rent last year was $625 a month. Despite her regular payments, there were persistent maintenance issues over the years.
“I was tired of being subjected to a system that cripples poverty-stricken people and makes you feel as though we can’t do any better,” Gerona said.
Three years ago, Gerona learned about a program from MSHDA to help Section 8 recipients transition to homeownership. The program is called Keys to Own. To qualify, applicants must complete Homebuyer Education and Financial Management workshops. They must also become debt-free, raise their credit scores over 640, and save $1,300 in the bank for at least two months. To meet these requirements, Gerona came to Southwest Solutions. She took the workshops there and started working with Teresa Torres, a homebuyer and financial counselor at the organization.
“The classes were very helpful in preparing me for the responsibilities of homeownership,” Gerona said. “I think of Teresa Torres as my angel. She showed me how to get my credit in order and encouraged me every step along the way.”
Ultimately, Gerona decided not to pursue the Keys to Own program. But preparing for it positioned her for a different path to homeownership. She started working with Teresa Bent, a mortgage loan officer with CIBC. Teresa helped qualify Gerona for a mortgage of $30,000 and for $15,000 in downpayment assistance from MSHDA’s Step Forward program. Gerona also came into a small inheritance from her sister, who passed away last year, and she knew that her sister would want her to apply the money toward her dream of homeownership. So Gerona started looking for home to buy.
“I looked at so many houses and I was almost ready to give up because the quality of the houses for what I could afford was so poor and I knew I couldn’t live there,” Gerona said. “Then we went to a house in Eastpointe. I was with my daughter. She was wearing green. When we pulled up to the house, we saw that it was green, too. My daughter smiled and said, ‘Mama this is your home.’ She was right.”
Gerona bought the home for $44,000 on the second day of spring this year. After the downpayment, her loan amount from CIBC was about $25,000. Her monthly payments, with taxes and insurance included, are $350 for the 30-year fixed mortgage.
“When I started working with Gerona about a year and a half ago, she doubted that she could afford a decent home,” said CIBC Loan Officer Teresa Bent. “But through her own persistence and the assistance of myself and Teresa Torres of Southwest Solutions, her dream became a reality. I have never had a more appreciative client, and I am so happy that we were able to help her.”
“It’s an incredible feeling to finally have my own home,” Gerona said. “I have faith that I’m up to the challenge of maintaining it. I think of it also as an investment. I’m building a foundation that will contribute to my wellbeing and future.”