In recent years, Washington, D.C., consistently has been one of the toughest markets in the United States in which to find affordable housing.
The inventory of homes is limited, which leads to increased demand, and area incomes aren't rising enough to keep up. These factors, among others, make it increasingly difficult for many first-time homebuyers—particularly those with low or moderate incomes—to purchase a home in the nation's capital. Many low-income buyers are not aware of the programs that could help them.
Like many D.C. residents, Robin McKinney, a single mother of seven, didn't realize the options open to her. That is, until she discovered MANNA.
Founded in 1982, Washington, D.C.-based MANNA is a nonprofit that develops townhouses, condominiums, cooperatives, rentals and, occasionally, single-family homes. The organization has built more than 1,200 units in the past 35 years, most of them for sale. In addition to its development activities, MANNA provides education for first-time homebuyers, including financial capability classes.
During a recent radio interview, Sarah Scruggs, director of advocacy and outreach for MANNA, explained how her organization's programs help prepare prospective homebuyers.
"We have something that we call the Homeownership Center. One of the key pieces of that is the Homebuyers Club, which is a group for folks looking to purchase for the first time," Scruggs said.
Scruggs explained that the center combines individual attention with larger, group-learning events. The process often begins with one-on-one counseling on what it takes to own a home. Membership in the club requires an application process and a nominal fee based on prospective buyers' incomes.
"They come in for an appointment and we pull their credit report, much like what a lender would do to see if someone is mortgage-ready," she said. "We go over the report with them, make them familiar with it and then begin to create goals."
Counselors ask about buyers' vision and the kinds of places in which they see themselves living.
"We talk to them about what it would take to get there," Scruggs said. "Then we connect them to the Homebuyers Club so they can meet and learn with people on a monthly basis, in addition to checking in one-on-one with our counselors. We introduce them to every part of the homeownership process."
Club membership includes activities such as speaking to different realtors, following a home inspector through a house and meeting with lenders.
"We want to make sure people are hands-on with the process and fully understand what they're getting into," Scruggs said during the interview, adding that MANNA then connects many buyers with the District of Columbia's purchase-assistance program.
The program provides interest-free loans and closing-cost assistance to qualified applicants. The loan amount is based on a combination of factors, including income, household size and the assets each applicant must commit toward a property's purchase. The loan is secondary to a private first-trust mortgage. As of 2017, eligible applicants can receive a maximum of $80,000 in gap-financing and an additional $4,000 for closing costs. Loans are based on a borrower's earnings, assessed as a percentage of area median income.
McKinney learned of MANNA four years ago when she was almost evicted from her apartment. She has been a member of its Homebuyers Club ever since.
In December, with the help of MANNA's homeownership programs, McKinney was able to close on her first home. It is an important milestone for most people, but perhaps more poignant for McKinney. More than six years before, she and her children were homeless.
According to McKinney, the incentive to work toward this goal has been her children. After she was able to move into an apartment, McKinney promised her four daughters and three sons they would never be homeless again. With that promise, she began her journey. The road was not easy, however. McKinney's credit score made purchasing difficult, and many relators did not understand the needs of low-income residents or how to help them.
When McKinney first began the homeownership process, she said many people told her she wouldn't succeed.
"The first time I went to MANNA was incredible, because they told me that I could become a homeowner," McKinney recalls. "In fact, they told me that, if I was ready, there are houses I could buy now."
Unlike other realtors, MANNA works with contractors who accept low-income residents. To prepare her financially, MANNA's budget plan for McKinney was very strict. She paid all of her bills on time and did not buy anything that wasn't a necessity. McKinney says that for her, the keys to homeownership were patience and using an organization like MANNA that can "connect the dots." She describes her new home as her "winning lottery ticket." It is "the best feeling ever, like the feeling after you have your first child," she laughs.
McKinney says her children did not believe she had purchased a home for them until they saw her story featured on the news.
"When they saw the story, they started crying because they knew if something happened to their family, they would still have a home," McKinney recalls. "My kids don't really understand what MANNA does, but they know that MANNA does good."
McKinney hopes other homeless women will be inspired by her story and become homeowners.
"When you have keys to the house, you have keys to the city," she smiles. "It's hard, but if I can do it, so can they."