By: Alaina D’Anzi
Residents of Washington, D.C. know all too well how hard it can be to find housing, especially housing that isn’t too expensive. DC’s staggering rent prices make it hard for families to save for the future, send their children to college, and purchase a home—in short, to pursue the American Dream.
“DC’s severe affordable housing crisis is threatening the very foundation of the city’s poorest residents…When families are at constant risk of eviction, or have an empty fridge, or cannot even afford bus fare because they have to devote nearly all their income to rent, the chances of getting ahead are slim. The affordable housing crisis is harming not only the health and well-being of DC’s lowest-income residents, but undercuts the dream of economic mobility for thousands,” reports Claire Zippel of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
We often hear about these “poorest residents” as statistics or numbers in the news, but they’re real people. DC Habitat homeowner Steve faced this reality every day. After losing his home, Steve struggled to find new housing. Even with a full-time job, Steve couldn’t find a place to live that left enough money to cover other basic expenses, a crisis that is all too familiar to families across the U.S.
More than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings and a third have no savings at all, leaving them just one crisis—a medical emergency, job loss, or other unexpected cost—away from homelessness. In DC, which has the highest rate of homelessness in the nation, Steve struggled to rebound. Motivated by the thought of having a home to return to after a long day of work, rather than a shelter, Steve worked tirelessly to realize his dream.
His determination paid off when he learned about DC Habitat’s homeownership program. Steve was eager to partner with DC Habitat and worked diligently to complete the program’s requirements, including completing financial education and helping to build his home, to reach his goal of homeownership.
In addition to partnering with DC Habitat, which builds affordable homes, Steve used the DC Department of Housing and Community Development’s Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) which provides financial assistance to very low- to moderate-income homebuyers in the form of zero-interest home loans and closing cost assistance. Steve partnered with HPAP, completed the required education courses, and qualified for the maximum HPAP amount—an $80,000 home loan and $4,000 toward closing costs.
HPAP reduces financial and educational barriers to homeownership. Program participants make down payments of as little as $500, making homeownership possible for families who can afford a monthly mortgage but struggle to save for a traditional down payment. HPAP also provides courses and counseling focused on addressing credit barriers, developing budget tools, and building savings, better equipping new homeowners to be successful.
Less than a year after joining DC Habitat’s program, Steve is now the happy homeowner of a peaceful one-bedroom condo in the same neighborhood he grew up in, just two blocks from the elementary school he attended. By purchasing an affordable home from DC Habitat with financial assistance from HPAP, Steve’s monthly mortgage payments are half of the national average. And with a place to call his own, he can begin to plan for the future—one that includes building a barbecue pit and hosting friends.
“I recommend the program to people all the time. Someone knocked on my door the other day asking about how to get involved with DC Habitat…It’s a good program to get into, because you’re also helping someone else to get a house by helping to build houses.”