Laughter fills the home when her grown children, grandchildren, godchildren, and other family members come to visit. In the middle of it all, Amanda Nash loves every minute as she basks in the glow of her first real home. “I just love that this is a place where people can come and feel welcome, like they’re all a part of our home,” says the Arizona State University transfer admissions specialist who lives in Phoenix. “It’s really all about family, and I’m so blessed that we’re able to create that feeling of belonging here.”
Amanda is among thousands of people who have become homeowners in the past four years, thanks in large part to Wells Fargo’s NeighborhoodLIFT® program, its teaming with the nonprofit NeighborWorks® America, and their network of housing nonprofits across the U.S.
11,000 new homeowners
From its inception in January 2012 to date, NeighborhoodLIFT and related LIFT programs have helped about 11,000 low- and average-income people in more than 40 communities achieve their dream of homeownership, says Jon Campbell, head of Government and Community Relations for Wells Fargo.
He says Wells Fargo has reached that milestone by committing $300 million to the initiative, making it the largest philanthropic effort in company history. Nearly 80 percent has gone to down payment assistance, with the remaining funds for program support.
With its geographic reach and longevity, LIFT has led the post-crisis housing assistance efforts by large financial institutions, Jon says. The other LIFT programs include CityLIFT® and HomeLIFTSM, which have goals similar to those of NeighborhoodLIFT.
“We had actually hoped that someone would copy us, that our leadership would spur others to jump on board,” he says. “But to my knowledge — and my surprise — nobody else has taken on anything as extensive or geographically broad as what we’ve done here.”
LIFT programs have had a tremendous impact sparking economic recovery in local communities in the wake of the housing crisis by making sustainable homeownership more affordable and achievable, Jon says.
“Customers, community stakeholders, and regulators we talked to during the housing crisis found our NeighborhoodLIFT program quite compelling,” he says. “They could see the work we were already doing to help consumers, so it became a win-win for NeighborhoodLIFT program to serve as a model for the LIFT programs that followed.”
LIFT Programs National Manager Kim Smith-Moore, who has attended nearly all of the LIFT homebuyer events during the past four years, says the company has closely tracked the success of the program.
“Our analysis of how it is performing among the first 10,000 homeowners created shows the majority of LIFT program grant recipients earn 80 percent or less of their area median income,” she says. “So the program is indeed helping mortgage-ready, hard-working people and families overcome the barrier of coming up with a sufficient down payment to buy a home.”
Down payment help
For Amanda and her family, the NeighborhoodLIFT program has been priceless. Boosted by a down payment assistance grant, she bought a two-bedroom home last year after more than a decade of renting and uncertainty. She now lives with her husband and two hosted foreign exchange students whom she calls her daughters.
“I grew up living in a house with my mom, so we really had the stability that I think comes with owning a home,” she says. “Now with my family, I just wanted to have that same stability in our lives and build a better future for us all.”
Amanda and her husband also needed more room to accommodate their work with foreign exchange students through a hosting/mentoring program. “We get to create opportunities for them to come here from their countries, have American experiences, and learn about America. So it’s all about helping others and creating opportunities for them, something we really believe in.”
Amanda credits the nonprofit Trellis, a member of the NeighborWorks network, for playing a key role in her homebuying experience. It connected her to a HUD-approved homebuyer education course and Wells Fargo’s NeighborhoodLIFT program.
“Amanda Nash is just one of the great stories,” says Brenda Lopez, director of the Trellis homeownership center. “When homeowners [like her] come to our class and understand the process, they can let go of that fear of not knowing what they’re doing.”
Since the LIFT program’s inception, more than 30,000 people have attended homebuyer events in communities across the U.S., including Phoenix in mid-January, with upcoming events planned in San Diego and Philadelphia.
For Jon, one of the most memorable moments came in the early days when he was attending a LIFT event in Atlanta: “I saw a young man leaving the convention center and greeted him as he walked by. I’ll never forget what happened next. He clenched his fist, pumped it in the air, and said something like, ‘This is the greatest day of my life. I never thought it was possible to own a home, but thanks to this program, I will!!’
“That has been emblazoned on my mind since that day,” Jon added. “Watching that one individual, having that kind of pride in owning a home, made me appreciate the real meaning of all the work we’ve been doing. It’s something I’ve never taken for granted since.”