In 2007 Brenda Prince purchased her home with the help of the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Home Ownership Assistance Program (HCV/HOAP).
Using the lessons she learned in HCV/HOAP, she saved and steadily improved her home for herself and her son. Her garage is a gym and meditation studio. Her basement has been refinished. Her yard is fenced in. She has new granite countertops and a backsplash in her kitchen. Now she is paying her full monthly mortgage without voucher subsidy assistance. She is self-sufficient after successfully completing 15 years participating in the HCV/HOAP.
“It is still a blessing, a big blessing,” Prince said. “They helped me when my income wasn’t as high as it is today. After I put up my 30% of the mortgage payment each month, voucher subsidy assistance helped to pay the remainder of my monthly mortgage.”
The HCV/HOAP is for eligible tenant-based voucher program participants. The HCV/HOAP has a required homeownership briefing, as well as pre- and post-purchase counseling. In addition, HCV/HOAP refers eligible participants to District of Columbia supported community-based organizations for homebuyer education and counseling classes that help to prepare them to purchase homes. Participants must complete the homebuyer education and counseling classes and receive a certificate of completion.
After meeting all of the HCV/HOAP requirements, eligible participants are assigned a HCV/HOAP Homeownership Coordinator to assist them throughout the process. Once a participant receives a voucher, it is used toward the mortgage payment for up to 15 years, or as long as the participant remains eligible for voucher subsidy assistance.
“My mortgage today is probably half the amount of people’s rent. Of course, that is a big plus,” she said. “I was able to do work in my own home. Before I was doing work in someone else’s property.”
In HOAP, participants work hard to improve their credit, attend first-time homebuyer workshops, develop personal and household budgets, and attend financial literacy classes. There also are opportunities to improve job skills and education.
“I remember starting the program. We had classes because we didn’t know what tomorrow was going to be. If you live another day, you were going to wish you made those choices and you did step out there. If you live another day, you still got to keep a roof over your head. I think this was an excellent choice,” Prince said. “I took a lot of great advice from people. Housing was there actually. They put out a lot of stuff and they gave a lot of information. It was up to you to hear it.”
She added, “They were firm. They wanted to make sure they knew what you were getting into.”
Prince said she keeps her life simple so she can save as much money as possible for the future or her next home improvement project. She prepares meals at home, learned how to give herself manicures and pedicures, and limits her spending on fashion, and other items. She also has maintained a savings account, a requirement of the homeownership program.
“I do want to make sure I stress how important it is to try and listen to the people in the program. They are trying to give you the best game and teach you to be positive,” Prince said. “I got a lot of help from [DCHA Homeownership Coordinator] Ms. [Alice] Revel. She was loving and caring with her words, if you really listened to her. She wanted to make sure you started the process, but also completed the process.”
Prince continues to work on her credit and has seen a 200-point increase in her score. Whenever she uses credit, she makes sure to pay it back as soon as possible.
“I always try to give as much as possible. I have been learning to do even better in that area,” she said.
Her credit score is her friend, she said. Because she doesn’t have family to fall back on, she knows to take very good care of her credit so that it will be there in case of an emergency. With each home improvement, she makes sure her bills are paid before she takes on another project.
She said her next projects include replacing the stove, redoing the bathrooms, and getting the house painted. But she is taking her time and replacing appliances with high quality products that will last. Prince also is in the midst of refinancing her mortgage to take advantage of the lower interest rates.
“I would like to have my home paid in full when I retire. That will be a blessing, too. That is one of my goals: to have my home paid off in the next 15 years,” she said, noting how proud she is to have overcome the difficulties of her youth. “My story is awesome. It is wonderful and is a testimony.”