WASHINGTON – Daniel Ray said his previous realtor made him feel like a fool.
Ray was trying to buy the two-level rambler in Temple Hills that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter had rented for two years.
“He made me feel like it was impossible,” said Ray, 29, bitterly. He said the realtor belittled him because of credit problems and debt from college loans.
But a nonprofit organization called HomeFree USA has helped turn things around. After meeting with members of the organization in November, Ray and his wife are working on financing with Chevy Chase Bank and hope to close on the house in June.
HomeFree aims at turning minority, low- and middle-income renters into homeowners. Based in Washington, the organization hopes to help 50,000 families across the country into homes by the year 2000. It is targeting the District, Baltimore, Cleveland and Dallas this year.
The organization’s courses, counseling and mortgage screening have been in effect for the past four months in the District, where more than 300 residents have entered the mortgage process. Marcia Griffin, president and founder of HomeFree, said the organization has just started programs in Baltimore.
“There are so many families and single individuals that want to buy,” she said. “They are scared of the rip-offs.”
Through its “crusade for home ownership,” HomeFree has formed partnerships with religious and community organizations to educate and prepare potential buyers. It has also linked together with local banks and the mortgage industry to make financing easier.
“Wherever they can get the best deal, we take them,” Griffin said.
In Washington and Baltimore, HomeFree works with a financial arm of the National Baptist Convention USA and the National Baptist Convention of America. The two conventions have 12.7 million members.
“The church is the one organization that has been intact for years and years,” said Dr. E. Edward Jones, president of the National Baptist Convention. “We command the attention of millions of our members. We will serve as a source of information.”
Ray, who works for the litigation department of a technology and software development firm, said he met with HomeFree members in November to “look at everything I had and see my mortgageability.
“It was very private,” he said. “It gave me the feeling it could be done.”
Ray said HomeFree did not overlook his financial difficulties, but gave him the reassurance that with time, these could be worked out.
Although Ray and his wife were making more than $60,000, the two had $28,000 in student loans and credit card debt of about $1,800. She had been behind in payments, while he had completely missed some.
He said financial mismanagement leads many people to miss out on buying homes.
“It’s a sad reality. A lot of minorities don’t think they can ever own a home,” said Ray, who is black. He said that many people are led to believe they need $10,000 to make a down payment.
Pamela Belt, 39, of Hillside, also participates in the HomeFree program. She said the organization has helped her manage personal finances, reminding her to make savings a priority.
She said she used to find herself broke and unable to think of buying a home.
Then the teacher’s aide at Blow Elementary School heard from a friend about the “how-to” classes for home buyers. She said she began to think maybe a house in Largo, or Suitland near her son and daughter’s high school, wasn’t so far out of reach.
“First-time home buyers attend these classes and find out what they’re getting into,” Belt said. “At least when I finally get a home I won’t be going in there blindly.”
Information classes are offered on budgeting, finding credit, mortgages and even a home improvement seminar called, “Almost New For Pennies.”
“People want to be empowered,” Griffin said.
Belt said she enjoyed the classes on taxes and credit the most and plans to start looking for a house in late summer.
She said the most important thing she learned is to place savings above spending. “Pay yourself first, instead of paying other people,” Belt said. -30-