Local organization helps families overcome barriers to homeownership

Courtesy of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity LaShonda McGowan plays Uno with family in new house

The average cost of a house in the Minneapolis-St. Paul seven-county area is $265,000. That sounds like an overwhelming dollar value for middle- to low-income families with dreams of buying their first home or getting back into home ownership. But, it’s much more achievable than one might think — so don’t let that price tag turn you around.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, an organization dedicated to improving homeownership opportunities, has the resources and programs to help families make the life-changing shift from renters to property owners.

The St. Paul-based organization actively promotes financial programs and services that can help families throughout the metropolitan area overcome the challenging home-buying process. To qualify, participants must have a credit score of 580 or higher, be a Minnesota resident for at least two years and not have owned a home in the last three years.

“If we can get more people into homeownership, the options for a better quality of life improves greatly,” said former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, now CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “The goal for all of us is to have a safe, affordable place to live, a place you can call your own.”

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LaShonda McGowan, a single mother of three, was nudged by a co-worker in December 2017 to look into Twin Cities Habitat after numerous failed attempts to secure financing to buy a house.

McGowan first purchased a home in 2006 but moved into an apartment in 2009 after a divorce. She was eligible for services from Twin Cities Habitat based on living in the apartment for nearly nine years. The inquiry turned out to be a memorable experience for McGowan and her kids.

“I was excited,” McGowan said of the opportunity to work with Twin Cities Habitat. “It wasn’t like, ‘yeah, we’ll see if this works out.’ It was real hope.”

McGowan, an X-ray technician, enrolled in the organization’s homeownership classes which helped her resolve credit issues and establish a budget plan.

In September 2018, McGowan and her children left their cramped apartment and moved into a four-bedroom home in Cottage Grove. All three of her children now have their own bedroom.

“It was tiring mentally and emotionally, but I felt like I finally made it,” McGowan said of her ninth-month process. “It felt like that race to the finish line.”

Since Twin Cities Habitat opened its doors in 1986, over 1,300 families have benefitted from their resources to purchase a home. McGowan and her children were among 92 families that were able to buy a house in 2018 with its assistance — the organization’s highest success total in a single year.

Courtesy of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity LaShonda McGowan and family in their new house

“Our strategic plan goal is to sustainably serve more than 100 first-time homebuyers each year. We are making great progress toward reaching that new level,” said Brian Juntii, senior director of marketing and communications at Twin Cities Habitat.

By the end of June, which completes the current fiscal year, Coleman said the organization hopes to close on at least 110 mortgages.

“We know the need is definitely out there,” Coleman said. “There is a pipeline for assistance. If you’re not qualified today, we can help you get there.”

McGowan and her family represent a demographic Twin Cities Habitat is determined to target. The organization is pushing hard to raise more awareness in minority communities about financial assistance for potential home buyers.

“Ninety percent of the families we serve are families of color,” said Shereese Turner, senior director of programs and services at Twin Cities Habitat. “We can’t ignore the fact that we have issues in the Twin Cities with regard to families of color and homeownership. We want to make sure disparities are served.”

Turner added that the organization’s services are much broader than many expect.

“We’re not just a program for low-income families,” Turner said. “We’re actively trying to attract higher income families who feel they won’t qualify.”

As such, Twin Cities Habitat has recently launched its Open Market Program, a plan designed to reach moderate-income families, ranging from $60,000-$80,000. Families who qualify for the Open Market Program are able to use their own real estate agent to locate a house for sale while still taking advantage of Twin Cities Habitat’s services and mortgage financing.

If a client does not have a real estate agent, Twin Cities Habitat will either rebuild a home and sell it or construct a new home with volunteers.

This homebuying option is in addition to the traditional Habitat developed properties (new construction and rehabbed homes). That means families with household incomes as low as $40,000 up to $80,000 may qualify for Twin Cities Habitat’s programs, giving them access to financial coaching, home-buying assistance and education, and mortgage financing.

For more information about Twin Cities Habitat and their home ownership resources, go to buywithhabitat.org or tchabitat.org.

Updated 4/25/2019 to correct and clarify Twin Cities Habitat’s stated goals and Open Market programming.

About Ray Richardson

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He worked 34 years as a sportswriter for the Chicago Daily Defender, Phoenix (Ariz.) Gazette and St. Paul Pioneer Press. Richardson can be heard on KMOJ-FM 89.9 (www.kmojfm.com) as host of 'Back In The Day,' a popular R&B oldies show that airs Sunday nights 6 p.m.-10 p.m. CST.

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