Lisa Alcott, homeownership program director for Providence Housing Development Corp., believes everyone should have a doorbell.
That’s why she said she insisted on having one in the new Providence Housing Home Ownership Center at Providence’s headquarters, 1136 Buffalo Road, Gates. The polite chime, she said, serves both as a doorbell and a reminder of the center’s goal of making homeownership a reality for more people.
The center, located in a converted chapel in St. William House on the diocesan Pastoral Center campus, will offer free help to the homebuying public through a partnership between Monroe County and Providence. Providence also received a $10,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase and a $7,500 grant from state Sen. Jim Alesi, R-Perinton, to help open the center.
“This is a great public-private partnership,” Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said during a June 6 press conference announcing the new homeownership center.
The center is open for walk-in traffic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday as well as by appointment. To introduce its services, Providence, an affiliate of diocesan Catholic Charities, hosted open houses June 12 and 14.
The center will provide program materials, free monthly educational workshops, and access to a computer terminal for those who are house-hunting or looking to refinance. Those who apply for help also may receive free one-on-one counseling services.
Income-eligible first-time homebuyers in certain areas of Monroe County also may qualify for the county’s Home Ownership Program, which is funded by a federal community-development block grant. Other federal funds provide downpayment and closing-cost assistance. The average homebuyer in the program receives a $5,000 homebuying grant from Monroe County, which contracts with Providence to administer the money.
Qualifying homebuyers must complete eight hours of classroom instruction, including taking classes on prepurchase counseling, home repair and maintenance, credit repair and budgeting, understanding the homebuying process, and selecting qualified homebuying and repair professionals.
Monica McCullough, Providence’s executive director, said the organization has provided homeownership education to more than 1,000 families and has leveraged more than $24 million in affordable mortgages.
“We provide stable, healthy homes,” McCullough said.
Helping families find safe, affordable housing is one way that Catholic Charities is trying to cut poverty in half in the U.S by the year 2020, said Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, which operates Providence.
To help families throughout the greater Rochester region find such housing, Providence and its partner, the Rochester Housing Authority, provide families with a voucher that applies federal Section 8 rental-subsidy payments toward a mortgage. This helps families transition from renting to owning a home, Alcott said.
For many people who are struggling financially, homeownership is an important landmark on their road to self-sufficiency, said Sharlene LeRoy, senior director of operations and chief financial officer for the Rochester Housing Authority. Since 2001 the authority — through its partnership with Providence — has helped about 40 Section 8 recipients move from renting to owning their homes, LeRoy said.
Alcott said homeowner education is a crucial part of the process. That is why homebuyers meet with Providence’s counselors to create a personalized homeownership plan, which might include such things as paying off credit-card debt. Help from the staff also includes walking homebuyers through the steps of a home closing and teaching them about professionals such as attorneys and inspectors who are involved in that process.
“Buying a home is one of the five most stressful things you do in life,” Alcott stated. “We’re here to buffer all that.”