Getting reliable help to buy—and keep—a house

. Tamla Caldwell

“God bless the child that’s got his own,” or, as the case may be, her own. Tamela Caldwell is grateful living proof, having come to homeownership through persevering determination. 

Her first obstacle was bad credit, having filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Two years later, she decided to buy a house and ran into something of a brick wall. 

“My bankruptcy was holding me back. I’d been pre-approved through Wells Fargo for small loans. The first time it was $130,000. Then, next, it was $169,000. The underwriter wouldn’t let it go through, because my bankruptcy wasn’t old enough.”

So, she played the waiting game a while longer. “Two, three years down the road. That’s when it started to take a turn. It was a challenge, finding someone who will guide you through the process. It’s frustrating, so it’s easy to give up trying to buy a home, because it’s hard to  find  someone to walk you through the steps.”

Caldwell added that you don’t always get help where you’d expect to—for instance, where’d she’d taken her banking business. “I began to be aware of that. I found out the bank that I’d been banking with for years, all the money I was transacting through there and my credit had [improved, yet] they didn’t want to honor that I had moved on.” 

She concluded that reliable counseling is key. “Usually people will start with you, then they’ll leave you to hang, leave you to try to figure the rest out yourself. That’s how it goes for a lot of people. That’s just the business.”

Enter the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance for whom, Caldwell attests, home buying is not business as usual. “They walk you all the way through. That was a blessing for me, and probably for some more people, because they kept their word. They walk you through A, B, all the way to Z.

“I went to their homeownership class and they walked me through my process. That’s how I got my home.”

Minnesota Homeownership Center’s Stakeholder Relations Director Bill Gray explained that there’s a bit more to the assistance from which she benefitted. “I would not say we are the cavalry to the rescue, as I think one of the best strategies we employ is partnering with other organizations better positioned than we are to do this important work.

“For example,” Gray continued, “rather than the Homeownership Center doing outreach in North Minneapolis on its own, we helped to coordinate an alliance of 40 different organizations to partner with on outreach in the communities where they were already doing good work.

“So specifically, rather than us doing homeownership education classes in North Minneapolis, we partner with Minneapolis Urban League to conduct the classes. We are under no illusions that we can pull off meaningful reduction of the ownership gap on our own.”

“The most important component of our work,” Gray said, “is to help prospective home buyers to understand all that’s at stake. Successful homeownership is sustainable homeownership.

“Buyers need to understand not only the mortgage qualifying and property purchasing processes. They also need to be prepared to handle being their own landlords and be equipped to handle the expense of a new roof or furnace on their own. With education, planning, and realistic long-term budgeting on the part of potential buyers, the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance is helping to prepare renters to successfully transition to sustainable homeownership.”

Still, Tamela Caldwell’s gratitude at being helped to the end of a hard road and living in her own home these past three years is certainly understandable. “It felt like a dream had come true,” she said.

“This is the best thing to do. If you know your credit [isn’t] what it needs to be, go seek credit counseling. That’s how I figured out my best solution. When you go through some kind of credit solution or counseling, they’ll help you look at your credit and you can decide together whether it’s working, whether going through bankruptcy or what have you.”