From renter to owner: Section 8 tenants use subsidies to buy homes
A federal program that enables qualified Section 8 participants to use rental subsidies to buy homes is proving a success story for the Springfield Housing Authority, which now leads the state for homes purchased.
With an eye to building community and boosting ownership across the city, the SHA has placed a priority in recent years on the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Section 8 Homeownership Program, with one full-time staffer dedicated to guiding renters through the complicated and often confusing process of buying a home.
SHA Executive Director William H. Abrashkin said the strategy is paying off.
“Home ownership is an indispensable foundation of strong communities,” he said. “We believe that with the right encouragement and supports, many of our program participants have the capacity to move from renters to owners. Every home ownership brought to our neighborhoods is an investment in the future and reinforces Springfield as the City of Homes.”
Abrashkin added, “This is a feather in our cap and a big deal for the SHA and the city.”
SHA administers 2,893 HUD Housing Choice vouchers, also known as Section 8 vouchers. Under the program, recipients live in privately-owned apartments, paying a portion of their annual income towards rent, with HUD picking up the rest, or about one-quarter of the rent. Apartments must pass annual inspections to meet government standards.
Since 2003, SHA has participated in the homeownership program, which allows people to use their federal rental subsidies to pay mortgages on homes they buy. But the process is complicated: People must qualify for mortgages, and banks must agree to work with these non-traditional buyers.
Progress was steady but slow until SHA hired Loleta Collins last year, originally as Section 8 Homeownership Program Coordinator, but since promoted to Participants Services Director. She works directly with potential homebuyers, walking them through the many steps they must take from dream to reality.
Those steps include dealing with any credit issues, pre-purchase counseling, mortgage approval, finding a home in the right price range, working with realtors, waiting through housing inspections, the closing process, and finally, moving in and keeping on top of finances. Many homeowners continue to work with Collins long after the closing, she said.
“One of the things I’ve done is to offer the ongoing assistance for people to have one point of contact to help them through the process, to answer any questions they had along the way,” Collins said. “I’m always available by phone, email, and in person. It’s a cumbersome process, especially first time homebuyers. There are a lot of entities that they have to work with.”
One new homeowner is Elizabeth Rodriguez, who bought a raised ranch in the Old Hill section of the city this past spring. She lives there with three of her five children – 12-year-old twins Nelson and Nexon Rios, and son Mac Millon, who is 23 and a graphic arts major at Springfield Technical Community College.
At age 44, Rodriguez is the first in her extended family to own a home. And that is an obvious point of pride for her.
“I always wanted a house – it was my dream,” she said. “But I never thought it would happen. Never. It always seemed impossible to me.”
Born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., she had her first child at age 18, during a time when she was helping out with her own four siblings, an ailing mother, and her maternal grandmother. Both of those women died, leaving Rodriguez as the maternal figure for her sisters and brothers, even as her own family was growing.
She moved to Springfield in 2001 to be close to an aunt. Shortly after that, she received a Section 8 rental subsidy and raised her children while living as a tenant for the next 13 years. Her oldest child, a daughter, is now 26 and a teacher in New York. Another son is 18 and living and working in Florida.
It was in early 2013 that Rodriguez learned of the Section 8 Homeownership Program, and she admits she was instantly hooked. But the process was complicated, and Rodriguez got stumped along the way.
Until Collins came along, that is.
Together, the pair took each step as it came, with Collins working to simplify the difficult issues and keep the process on track. Collins said Rodriguez is in many ways the perfect customer for this program.
“Elizabeth is driven. She knew what she wanted, and she never gave up,” Collins said.
Rodriguez replied simply, “Loleta is my angel. If it weren’t for her, I couldn’t have done this.”
Rodriguez and her three sons are living in a modest, if spotless, raised ranch, which she bought for $110,000. Her share of the monthly mortgage, including taxes and insurance, is $857, considerably lower than her most recent apartment rental, which was $950.
She and her family are happy in a home that is now the favored location for family celebrations and casual get-togethers. Owning a home, Rodriguez said, is even better in practice than in theory.
“I love it,” she declared. “The best part about it? It’s mine. This is home.”
SHA has helped place 12 Section 8 families into homes over the past year, which pushed the agency over the former state record-holder, Lynn, which has 54 rental subsidy homeowners.
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