Helping District of Columbia residents purchase a home of their own
Nonprofits MANNA and Building Bridges Across the River/11th Street Bridge Park are preparing Washington, D.C., residents for homeownership and providing access to affordable homes through the Ward 8 Homebuyers Club, thanks to support from Wells Fargo.
When Sabrina Walls showed her 13-year-old son their future home, he was ecstatic. “He was telling people before we even signed the papers,” Walls said. “He was so excited that we were going to be in one place, no more moving, and it’s our own.” They had lived in four other places in his lifetime, but in March, they moved into their own three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom townhouse in the affordable Oramenta Gardens community in Washington, D.C. For Walls, she finally achieved her goal of becoming a homeowner, 10 years in the making.
Walls attributes her success to MANNA, a nonprofit affordable housing developer in the district, and its Ward 8 Homebuyers Club, which is offered in conjunction with the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River/11th Street Bridge Park. Walls and Shaquata Camp are two of the 84 individuals who, since 2016, have bought homes after participating in the Ward 8 Homebuyers Club, a peer support group and homeownership counseling program for low- and moderate-income residents of Washington, D.C.
“The Ward 8 Homebuyers Club provides these families with the tools and resources for wealth creation, to change the dynamics of their families from renters to homeowners. They can change the dynamics not just of their current generation, but of generations to come.” — Vaughn Perry, director of equity for the 11th Street Bridge Park
In the district, the average family spends about 50% of their income on their rent or mortgage, said TC Caviness, director of MANNA’s Home Ownership Center. While most of the affordable housing is built east of the Anacostia River, where Ward 8 is, the people it’s intended for receive the information last, he added.
“It is an uphill battle for the families who have lived and worked here and are second and third generations,” Caviness said. “They want to stay connected to their neighborhoods, but they can’t afford it. So they end up having to choose between renting for the rest of their lives or relocating somewhere outside the city. MANNA has been able to connect with Bridge Park and with funders like Wells Fargo to help us offset some of the costs in affordable housing, hold monthly workshops with the community, and get them the information first.”
In Ward 8, 75% of the residents are renters, which makes them susceptible to getting outpriced and displaced from their homes, said Vaughn Perry, director of equity for the 11th Street Bridge Park, a project of Building Bridges Across the River that promotes equitable development and economic opportunity for residents east of the river.
“The Ward 8 Homebuyers Club provides these families with the tools and resources for wealth creation, to change the dynamics of their families from renters to homeowners,” Perry said. “They can change the dynamics not just of their current generation, but of generations to come.”
Wells Fargo has supported MANNA since 2010 and provided a $175,000 grant in 2020, allowing MANNA to keep Oramenta Gardens affordable for prospective homeowners and a $200,000 grant for the nonprofit to hire two housing counselors as the demand for services grew during the pandemic, Caviness said.
“Without that money from Wells Fargo, we would struggle to meet the everyday needs of the community,” Caviness said. “But because of this, we have additional counselors. Because of this, we have additional services. And because of this, we have an opportunity now to make a major impact on people’s lives.”
‘It feels good to have something that’s my own’
Walls found out about the Homebuyers Club from her mom, with whom she and her son were living with at the time.
“I wanted to purchase a home, but I needed to get my credit in order,” Walls said. “I had tried other programs, but they didn’t provide as much support as MANNA did. MANNA provides you with the tools and education to get yourself ready. The other programs I tried would help you, but you had to have your stuff together already.”
After joining the Homebuyers Club in 2017, Walls was assigned a counselor who reviewed her credit, provided advice, and helped her stay accountable toward reaching her goals. Walls began paying off debt to improve her credit and attending monthly Homebuyers Club classes, learning about topics like budgeting and saving, credit scores, and keeping homes energy efficient. She said she especially enjoyed classes on the homebuying process.
“I enjoyed learning about the whole homebuying process and having somebody there that, if you have questions, you could go back to the Homebuyers Club. They were there to walk through the whole process with me.” — Sabrina Walls
“There are so many things you have to do to get to go through the process,” Walls said. “I didn’t know all that stuff, as far as not purchasing stuff during that time period and keeping a steady job. I enjoyed learning about the whole homebuying process and having somebody there that, if you have questions, you could go back to the Homebuyers Club. They were there to walk through the whole process with me.”
Because of Building Bridges Across the River’s connections and MANNA’s role in the affordable housing development community, members of the Homebuyers Club are alerted when properties are available. The lack of supply is a major issue and prevents people in the area from purchasing homes, Vaughn said. Wells Fargo has directed several Where We Live grants to nonprofit developers including MANNA, which helped bring Oramenta Gardens to completion.
When Walls was ready to buy a home, she learned about Oramenta Gardens from the Homebuyers Club. She was already living in the area, and she liked that it was accessible to several interstates. Walls also preferred living in a townhouse.
“It looked like it was going to be nice and a good fit for what I was looking for,” Walls said. “Options are kind of limited, especially if you’re trying to get something that’s not really expensive.”
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed construction, so Walls waited about a year for her home to be ready. In the meantime, she rented an apartment to prepare for paying the bills she’d have as a homeowner. She finally moved with her son and niece into her home in March 2021, just a few weeks before her 40th birthday.
“I’m still getting used to it because it feels unreal, but it feels good to have something that’s my own and to have more space,” Walls said.
As Walls is settling into her home, she’s continuing to receive support from MANNA and working with her counselor to build savings for emergency home expenses. She also attends Homebuyers Club classes every now and then.
“The support from MANNA has been great,” Walls said. “Whatever questions I’ve had or help I’ve needed, they’ve been there. My process has been long, but they have been there for me.”