Strengthening neighborhoods one new homeowner at a time

By Lucy Berry DeButy

Buying your first home is a major life milestone – one Huntsville resident LaJoy Johns always felt was out of reach.


It wasn’t until she took a first-time homebuyer course several years ago at Family Services Center in Huntsville that her dream started to become a reality.


“I took the class even though homeownership was not even on my horizon or where I could believe that it would ever happen,” she said.
Johns, a subcontracts administrator for Torch Technologies, credits the Down Payment Assistance Program (DAP) from Community Development at the City of Huntsville for helping her take the leap from renter to homeowner.


Thanks to DAP, she secured a $5,000 down payment to buy her first home for $72,900 in District 1. The three-bed, two-bath house allowed Johns to stay in the Terry Heights/Hillandale neighborhood, where she had lived in five different homes previously.
“When I got approved for a loan, I was approved for $150,000 and thought about moving out by Buckborn High School,” she said. “I thought about moving out to Harvest, but in my heart, Terry Heights was my home, so I chose this area.”


Consolidated plan


Johns is one of many success stories resulting from the City’s five-year consolidated plan. Tied to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, the plan addresses housing and community development needs for low- to moderate-income individuals and families in Huntsville.
As the current consolidated plan ends this year, City planner Turkessa Coleman said they’re working hard to create the next one.
“As planners, this allows us to really dive into what our communities would like to see,” she said. “We then take their opinions and thoughts coupled by all sorts of data and try our best to make an informed decision about what’s needed in our target communities, specifically as it relates to housing.”

In the 2015-2020 consolidated plan, Coleman said the City’s goal was to build 15 single-family homes across Huntsville. So far, they’ve built 22.


The City has also helped 64 families through DAP and expects to meet or possibly exceed that number within the year.
“We like to think of our money as being a catalyst to increasing the quality of life for every Huntsvillian who wants to participate in our activities,” Coleman said.


Planting roots


As a single mom in 2002, Violet Edwards rented a “not so great” apartment after moving to Huntsville to work for a local TV news station. That first year with her young daughter while going through a divorce was all about survival and rebuilding.


By the second year, Edwards started to ask, “What’s next?”


“I was ready … then I realized what I wanted to do took money and a lot of it,” she said. “So it became a year of saving and planning and trying to figure out what I wanted to be.”
Edwards had heard about the City’s program for first-time homebuyers and decided to enroll. After completing a financial literacy course, she secured $5,000 to purchase a home on Morningside Court in District 6.

With the down payment already handled, Edwards could afford other common expenses, such as closing costs and a home inspection.
Since buying her four-bed, three-bath home in 2005, Edwards has remarried and had two more children. She’s now a development officer and lecturer at UAH and serves as vice president of the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.


“It was really the City investing in the City,” Edwards said. “Because now I pay my property taxes. I’m here and I volunteer and I have children in the public school system. It has really helped me plant roots and just bloom here.”


Community input


Being able to help residents like Johns and Edwards makes going to work each day worthwhile, Coleman said.


She said the drive to serve “really keeps us going to make sure we’re creative, we stay in line with what’s trending and we grow smart with our programs.”


“I’ve never been able to put a price on that per se,” she said. “The joy of how we enhance the quality of life for families and individuals and to see our nonprofits be able to serve those in need is priceless.”


Community Development is seeking input for the next consolidated plan, which is due to HUD by May 2020. There are two public surveys available now:

Coleman said they want as much feedback as possible to paint a true picture of Huntsville’s needs going forward.


“I think it’s a must that we understand how folk in Huntsville see themselves and their communities in the next 5, 10, 15 years,” she said. “We want to be able to align ourselves with the new jobs coming in.”

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