Amanda Koger graduated from college in Chicago six years ago and made a list of things she wanted for her future home: a job in the non-profit sector, an enriched black experience, and a city with public transportation. The District won out among her other selected cities, so she moved with her voucher to Washington, D.C. She found an apartment in Columbia Heights and a job with a non-profit. But she wanted one more thing – a home she owned.
Her first attempt at the homeownership process was in 2017.
“I went through that process. It didn’t go through. I was in a totally different credit situation and income situation,” Koger said. “I met with a housing counselor and worked on my credit. I just couldn’t get a loan because my credit score was so low.”
The housing counselor she worked with set her up for future success. After reviewing tons of Koger’s paperwork and bank statements, the counselor laid out where Koger needed to focus her work. She needed to pay down small debts. She needed a higher salary. She needed to start saving money for a down payment.
“In 2017, I didn’t come super prepared. I wasn’t as educated as I was going through this cycle. I just wanted to get a house,” said Koger, who restarted the homeownership process at the end of 2020. “Whatever the housing counselor said, I was just doing that. I started getting promotions. I started a savings account. I followed the basic steps.”
Thanks to her first experience, she said she was more mature and knew what homeownership entailed when she began the process again last year. She knew how to interview her realtor. She knew the differences between loans. She knew about D.C. programs that could help her secure her first home.
“I took the time to get better educated on what I needed to do. Before I was totally striving, but wasn’t ready,” said Koger, who said a rental survey asking where she saw herself in five years prompted her to reach out to DCHA’s Homeownership Program Coordinator Alice Revel.
Revel placed Koger back in DCHA’s Homeownership Program. Koger’s friend recommended a realtor. Things were lining up for her.
“This round was meant to be,” Koger said. “I already had the realtor. I already knew the process to apply for HPAP (D.C.’s Homeowner Purchase Assistance Program). During COVID-19 and home buying at the peak, they were able to fit me in. Everything was just falling into place. I definitely think there was a higher power at play.”
Koger was able to secure pre-approvals from HPAP, lenders who work regularly with DCHA’s homeowners, and two other banks. She got her budget together.
“Alice really helped too. She helped a lot. Just by keeping me organized and the process organized. She would check in on me,” Koger said. “And I had a really great realtor. She looked at the process like a project manager. She had a checklist. She stepped up and spoke for me.”
Koger began looking for homes. She saw seven houses within a two-day span. She knew she wanted to live in Northeast or Southeast. She knew she wanted to live in a predominantly black neighborhood. She knew she wanted a home with character.
“The second day we went out and the house I’m in now it was the last house of the day,” she said, stating the other houses she saw didn’t have the right “vibe,” but the last house had it and it was close to a park and had parking.
With the help of her realtor she put in a bid. There was a little bidding war, she said, but her realtor’s strength and professionalism helped her win her first home.
“There was a little apprehension on my end disclosing the fact that I was a voucher recipient. At first I wasn’t going to do it because of the shame. It was one of the lenders who said, ‘No you definitely want to use it. Any income you have you want to present,’” Koger said. “To the credit of Alice, she was there every step of the way. Once I got approved for one thing, Alice would tell me what paperwork I needed. It was the organization of those two ladies—Alice and my realtor–that I was able to do this quickly.”
But, there was a hiccup in her process. HPAP didn’t work out for her and she opted to go with an outside lender’s conventional loan. Combined with her voucher, the loan and the sellers’ offering her extra assistance with closing costs, Koger was able to seal the deal.
Thanks to her work with HPAP and DCHA, Koger had an inspector and settlement agency already lined up. She closed on her new Ward 7 home with a finished basement and fenced off back yard in March 2021.
“Being in this area made me feel more connected. People say the richness of the black culture isn’t here anymore. But here I’m seeing these are like Washingtonians. Their homes were passed down from their parents and they have been living in D.C. all of their lives. My neighbor to my right is in her 20s and went to Howard University. It is just great to see that,” Koger said. “I’m always greeted by elders on the block. It is the community I didn’t always see.”
Her biggest frustration in the process was with the loan officer. They had all of her personal information and were looking into the most intimate parts of her financial life. However, she is thankful that she made it through and looks forward to owning more property in the future.
“This process has definitely matured me a lot, but stressed me a lot, but it’s good. Even afterwards, Alice checked in with me with a closing conversation on responsibilities and what that means every month. Her assistance was really useful. Not even just the program, but her being an ear due to the anxiety. I’m really, really grateful for her and this program,” said Koger, the second person in her family to own their own home. “It definitely took a team. Everyone was working with one another.”
She went on to add, “The joy of driving up and saying. ‘I own that.’ Especially in D.C., that is a feeling I can’t describe. This is the biggest responsibility you have in your life, but now it is a sense of pride I have.”