Clarissa Henry was used to going it alone.
Her life experience had taught her that people weren’t always willing to help minorities get ahead. That’s why she thought her dream of owning a home would remain just that — a dream.
Then she found out about two services that changed her life — Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities of Chemung County’s First Time Homebuyer Program. Henry enrolled in both programs, and now she and her family reside in their own home in Elmira.
“It made a big difference. People like me, we can’t afford things like that. Without this, there are a lot of us that would just be stuck,” Henry said.
Many people have heard about Habitat for Humanity (see related story on page B5), but they may not know that programs such as the First Time Homebuyer Program exist, or that Catholic Charities of Chemung County is not the only agency with such a program. Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Inc. (see sidebar), a joint effort of Rochester’s Catholic and Episcopal dioceses, offers a Home Ownership Assistance Program for first-time homebuyers.
Catholic Charities of Chemung County’s First Time Homebuyer Program uses funds obtained through a partnership with the City of Elmira. Participating individuals and families receive nine hours of pre-purchase education, said Jane Galvin, program coordinator. They learn about budgeting, saving, working with real-estate agents and lenders, and what to look for on a home inspection.
Qualifying applicants then receive a $13,000 grant to be used for a down payment and closing costs. The program also provides post-purchase education, and participants are required to attend 12 of the program’s Homeowners’ Association meetings over the next two years. At these meetings, homeowners learn about such things as predatory lenders, lawn care and home repair.
Sheen Housing’s Home Ownership Assistance Program provides financial assistance with closing costs for families who meet specific income requirements, said housing counselor Deborah Harris. The program is a two-for-one matching program, so if a family has $500 to contribute toward those costs, Sheen Housing will provide $1,000, she said.
Participating families are required to attend pre-purchase classes. They review their credit and learn about the homebuying process, how to budget, find and work with a real-estate agent, and what to look for in a home, Harris said. If applicants are not financially ready to purchase a home when they apply, Sheen Housing will help them reach that point, she said.
After purchasing their homes, participants also attend post-purchase classes, where they learn the basics of home maintenance, she added. These classes are free for families with low incomes who meet specific criteria, but for a small charge they’ll be provided to anyone interested, regardless of income level.
“Everyone needs counseling and education. It doesn’t matter if you have $10 or $10 million. If you do not know what homebuying … and homeownership is all about, you’re as much in the dark at either end of the spectrum,” Harris said.
Such programs are dreams come true for many people, according to Suzie Grebleski, a single mother of two who recently purchased a home with the help of the First Time Homebuyer Program. Before moving into her home in January, she’d been sharing one of her apartment’s two bedrooms with her 13-year-old daughter.
“I’m just so grateful. I thank God for (the program) every night,” Grebleski said.
Sheen Housing offers a variety of services
The Home Ownership Assistance Program is just one of the many services Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Inc. provides to individuals and families, according to Executive Director Allyn Smith.
The agency also has initiated or assisted with the development of a number of housing projects for senior citizens and families. Among the most recent projects are Brentland Woods, an assisted-living senior apartment community in Henrietta; Bloomfield Meadows, a senior-living community in Bloomfield; Fort Hill senior apartments in Canandaigua; The Northfield, an assisted-living community in Perinton; Scottsville Hollow, an affordable apartment complex for senior citizens and families in Scottsville; and Elizabeth Crossings, an affordable apartment complex for families.
The agency also offers an emergency home-repair program, through which families, people with disabilities and seniors who meet specific income criteria may receive grants to put toward the cost of needed home repairs. Sheen Housing also maintains a speakers’ bureau, which gives presentations for faith communities, Smith said.
Another popular program is the agency’s reverse mortgage for senior citizens. Through this program, homeowners who are 62 and older are able to convert the equity in their houses into cash, according to Deborah Harris, housing counselor. There are no credit or income requirements for this program, and the homeowners may spend the money as they choose, she added.
Although its offerings are varied, the same mission lies at the heart of all of Sheen Housing’s programs.
“The mission itself is housing-related, but all our efforts are to support the dignity and the self-worth of any family or any relationship that we establish. No matter what the situation, there’s always dignity involved,” Harris said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the programs offered by Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Inc., call 585/461-4263 or visit www.sheenhousing.org.