Downpayment assistance program changing families’ lives, helping economy
Nearly $5 million in home sales have buoyed the area’s economy and 50 families have achieved homeownership since May through Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s (ACFCU) “Project Reinvest” $2.1 million downpayment assistance program.
“We’re ecstatic with the program’s results so far,” ACFCU CEO Ron Scott said. “Families’ lives are being changed for the better in a way that wouldn’t be possible without the downpayment assistance and we’re grateful to be involved.”
ACFCU received a grant to implement Project Reinvest in late March. By spring 2019, it will have helped 200 low and moderate-income families buy homes, with each utilizing a $10,500 downpayment assistance award. The assistance accrues no interest and is repayable only if a buyer sells or refinances the home.
“The program has been an answer to prayer,” Amanda Wooten said as her two young boys played in their bright bedroom in Valley Forge. She and her husband, Dustin, purchased their three-bedroom home in May with help from Project Reinvest funds. They moved from a dilapidated rental trailer where they were paying more combined in rent and utilities than they pay in mortgage and utility costs now.
The Wootens wanted better for themselves, and especially for their boys.
“We want them to be able to grow up in a home that we own so they know they can have that same thing if they work hard and handle their money right,” Amanda said.
Project Reinvest requires recipients to complete homeownership counseling and is available to people earning at or below the area median income. It has produced dozens of stories like the Wootens’.
“I am proud of the work Project Reinvest is doing to make homeownership attainable for more folks in East Tennessee,” Tennessee First District Congressman Dr. Phil Roe said. “By helping Tennesseans move from renting to owning, families are able to achieve a piece of the American Dream, invest in the community around them and increase their net worth by dedicating resources and energy into their neighborhoods.
“Just because a family may not be able to afford the upfront costs of a mortgage down payment doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the financial security and benefits that come with owning a home.”
The program enjoys a growing array of partners in the housing and non-profit sectors, including area realtor Meghan Gaby. Gaby said she encounters many families who, like the Wootens, are stymied by the lack of downpayment funds but are otherwise great candidates for homeownership.
“It’s not that they can’t make their monthly mortgage,” Gaby said. “They’re paying their bills, they’re working hard. They just don’t have the downpayment. That’s where they need the help.”
“I like partnering with the credit union and helping these families in our local area with downpayment assistance because you are giving people the pride of the American Dream and ownership when in a lot of cases they wouldn’t have that opportunity.”
Another partner is Eastern Eight Community Development Corp., through whom ACFCU learned of the grant. Eastern Eight contacted numerous clients who had put their home searches on hold because they couldn’t muster a downpayment or their available funds weren’t enough for a home of sufficient quality.
“Our staff went back and looked at everybody that was riding the fence or had gotten discouraged,” Eastern Eight’s Board Chairman, Stephen Dixon, said. “When we could offer this they were ecstatic.”
Since then, several such clients have made purchases. Of 50 buyers so far, 11 have purchased homes through Eastern Eight.
“Project Reinvest has been a game-changer for the people we work with,” Dixon said. “It’s delivering what I anticipated it would and closing gaps that had prevented some families from becoming homeowners.”
The program is available across 28 counties in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky.
Only 19 organizations received Project Reinvest funds – which came from a private source, not tax dollars – in a highly competitive national grant process. Since the program kicked off, ACFCU has completed more closings than all but one grantee.
ACFCU qualified because the credit union is a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). This status is reserved for financial institutions dedicated to responsible, affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged people and communities join the economic mainstream.
Gaby said she’s noticed a deep sense of gratitude among new homebuyers who use the program. “People have given me a call after they’re settled in to tell me how much they love their property and they’re so thankful,” she said. “In most cases they ended up saving money versus what they were paying in rent, so it really helped them. They were deserving, hard-working families.”
Anyone needing further information about program participation should contact ACFCU’s Curtis Montgomery at (423) 230-2648 or [email protected]