My Home Story: ‘Serious’ About Homeownership
For her first home in Cincinnati, OH, Yolonda “PJ” Allen didn’t want anything too big. She certainly didn’t want her own mansion or anything overly fancy.
All Allen really wanted was to have a home that she owned. The $750 she was paying each month in rent for an “okay” house was too much money for a home she knew she’d never end up buying.
“I was tired of paying high rent,” says Allen, 53, who works at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant. She paid a visit to the offices of Working in Neighborhoods in Cincinnati (WIN), a non-profit community development organization and a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency, to find out how she could go about becoming a homeowner.
“I really didn’t know what you had to do, but they told me that I had to work on my credit [score] and work on saving up my money,” says Allen.
Finding out about her credit history was something new to Allen. She admitted that she never checked her credit score in the past—“I wasn’t interested,” she says.
She never made a big purchase on her credit card, and she didn’t really have that much debt to begin with.
A housing counselor informed Allen that she needed to have a certain credit score to be approved for a home loan.
“I didn’t have a good [credit score] or a bad one. I was in the middle, and they told me I had to work on that and get it up,” says Allen.
She wasn’t discouraged by the news. If anything, it inspired her.
“That got me excited,” says Allen. “All I had to do was build up my credit history, and that’s what I did.”
With the help of her counselor at WIN, Allen was able to pare out the little purchasing habits that were hurting her credit score, including “spoiling” her 11-year-old grandson, Devin.
“I was giving him anything that he wanted,” says Allen. “I just had to calm that down for a bit and that’s just what I did.”
She lived and ate frugally, forsaking her favorite dinners at Olive Garden for items from the $1 menu at McDonalds.
In August 2013, she took an “understanding homeownership” class offered by WIN, which gave her the basics on how to save for a home, qualify for a mortgage, and have enough money to live in her home for years.
Through WIN, Allen found a small two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, close to where her daughter, Amanda, lived.
It was also a home that was rehabbed by WIN. In addition to offering homebuyer coaching and homebuyer classes, WIN works with neighborhoods in Cincinnati to identify “problem” properties, which the organization then rehabs and sells to first-time homebuyers.
“In the case of Ms. Allen, we helped prepare her for homeownership while we were working with the College Hill community to reclaim some homes that had been left vacant during the foreclosure crisis,” says S. Barbara Busch, the executive director of WIN.
Those who go through WIN’s homeownership courses are not obligated to buy a WIN-refurbished home, but Allen found a home in the College Hill neighborhood that grabbed her interest.
It was a small home, but it was “just enough” space for Allen.
By February of this year Allen was a homeowner, and all it took was a year-and-a-half for her to accomplish her goal.
“They actually said it didn’t take me that long because I was ‘serious’,” says Allen. “I was serious. I was tired of paying all that money for rent.”
Today her grandson visits Allen and stays in the other bedroom when he does (“he loves the backyard”). She’s already impressed by the amount of money she is saving by owning her home.
“My mortgage is way, way low, like $373 a month,” she says.
“I am very happy.”