Path to Homeownership

When do you know you're really home for the first time? When you sign the mortgage? When you turn the key in the door? When you wake up to see the sun slanting through the window of your new bedroom? For Habitat Chesapeake partner families, there may not be one moment. For them, "home" is a commitment, a goal, a journey, and finally, a place to call their own.

Becoming a homeowner is a daunting process for anyone. The financing, paperwork, and legal steps can test the mettle of even the savviest homeseeker. For a family who has lived for years in dilapidated neighborhoods and in units with rodents, leaky ceilings or unresponsive landlords, the process is especially intimidating.

That's where Habitat comes in.In a partnership that begins with a financial review and continues with hundreds of hours of sweat equity and homeownership training, partner families build the skills and confidence to own and maintain their own homes. The result is stronger families and stronger communities.

Starting the Process

For partner families, the excitement begins when they first learn of the opportunity to purchase a decent, affordable home through the Habitat Chesapeake homebuyer program. When it comes time to apply, applicants work with staff members to build a loan application, verifying that they meet the requirements to purchase a Habitat Chesapeake home. While the loan application is similar to that of a standard mortgage application, the qualification levels are substantially different as each homebuyer receives a zero-interest mortgage with payments not to exceed 30% of their gross household monthly income.

Once the loan application is completed, the next step for partner families is a meeting with the Habitat Chesapeake family selection committee, and later the Board of Directors, to review finances. With the support of the committee and Board, partner families work with staff members to develop a financial plan and lifelong budget that will enable them to buy, maintain and thrive as a homeowner. From repairing credit to 'paying themselves' through savings, the meetings cover every detail.

Partner families change their outlook long before they change their address. As tenants, they had to pay rent. In the financial review, they learn that homeowners are responsible for upkeep, repairs, insurance, taxes and more – and the transition can be intimidating.

At the same time, sharing personal finances with strangers can feel risky. However, these strangers quickly become friends as the staff builds trust with partner families, helping to build the skills and confidence necessary to take the next step.

Laying the Foundation

After getting an overview of the financial aspects of homeownership, partner families contribute 200 to 300 hours of sweat equity–the signature feature of Habitat–and participate in 50 hours of financial and homeownership education. They hang the drywall, pound the nails and paint the walls of the homes they'll live in one day.

Habitat Chesapeake partner families say all the hard work is worth it. "Many people think that I'm simply being given this home, but I'm working hard... I had to qualify, make sure my credit was in good shape, and I'm saving up for my down payment at settlement," said Regina Morrison-Sykes, a Habitat Chesapeake partner who has lived in Pigtown for 15 years. "Doing the homeowner education course really helped me out with getting to know the ins and outs to owning a home, and the sweat equity hours allowed me... to build my very own blessed home."

A New Beginning

Together, Habitat Chesapeake donors, volunteers, Morrison-Sykes and other partner families build homes, change lives, and form strong, healthy neighborhoods throughout central Maryland. Individuals break down barriers and come together to work together with their hands and their hearts. "I was able to help out the community by doing community service in Baltimore," Morrison-Sykes said.

Habitat Chesapeake recognizes that with training and support, those who face tremendous challenges can turn their lives around and create brighter futures for their families – and that's an investment that reaps dividends for us all.