Facing some challenging student loan debt, college sweethearts Cameron and Avery Cruise thought buying a home was way out of their reach. All of that changed last year, when they took a class that opened the world of homeownership to them.
From credit scores and debt-to-income ratios to the secrets of buying the right home, the Cruises absorbed all the knowledge they could get, said Cameron Cruise, 25, interim director of a child placement agency in Houston.
“We didn’t know what we were doing at all in the beginning,” she said. “After that class, we felt like we knew exactly what we needed to know.”
Two months after taking the free homebuying class, the Cruises received approval for a Wells Fargo home mortgage and closed on their new house — a 3-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath abode with a nice backyard and deck with plenty of space for grilling.
“We didn’t know what we were doing at all in the beginning. After that class, we felt like we knew exactly what we needed to know."
— Cameron Cruise
They were the first of many graduates who have bought homes or are in the process of buying one since the class began early last year, according to the NAACP’s Houston branch, which developed the course. It is part of a larger housing initiative called “Homes for Christmas” — a three-tiered approach to increasing homeownership and building and sustaining minority communities through education.
Now other NAACP branches nationwide are looking at the in-depth curriculum as a model for their educational outreach, said Belinda Everette, housing advocacy chair for the Houston office. The NAACP launched its educational initiative with a number of lenders aimed at increasing homebuying, supporting existing homeowners, and boosting the still-lagging homeownership rate in the African American community, Everette said.
“The homeownership rate among African Americans is at the same place it was 50 years ago, before the Fair Housing Act became law,” she said. “Before the housing bubble burst a decade ago, it peaked at 45 percent and has been falling since then. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data and US Census reports released in 2017 revealed an alarming decline in minority home ownership. We knew we had to take a fresh look at potential solutions — and that’s what led to our educational initiative today.”
For Wells Fargo, the Houston project embodies its nationwide support for African American homeownership, which included a major commitment in 2017 to create 250,000 homeowners by 2027 through $60 billion in home financing and $15 million in education and counseling programs. To date, the company’s investment in homebuyers and counseling has totaled $4.7 million, exceeding what was planned at this point in the effort.
In 2018, Wells Fargo impacted nearly 20,000 African American households through lending efforts, bringing the number of families the company has helped become homeowners to 43,000 since kicking off the commitment in 2017.
“We see educational outreaches such as the Houston program and others nationwide as key components of our commitment to the African American community,” said Cerita Battles, head of the Wells Fargo National Diverse Segments business. “By increasing their knowledge, broadening their horizons, and enhancing their savviness in the marketplace, we hope to create new generations of African American homeowners and reverse historical patterns of the past.”
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On the front line of that effort are veteran mortgage professionals such as Everett Isom of Wells Fargo Home Lending, who teaches the Houston class and is a member of the local NAACP’s advisory board. The former home mortgage consultant helped the Cruises with their mortgage financing.
“They came into the class not really knowing if they were ready to buy a house,” said Isom, now a marketing relationship consultant for Home Lending. “But six weeks after the class, they had put in an offer on their first house. They were the first ones to step out on what they learned in the class. It’s great to share their story with others who take the class and show that the dream of homeownership can really be obtained.”
From the start, the Cruises were impressed by Isom’s knowledge, confidence, and classroom presentation skills, Cameron Cruise said. Once they finished the course and began shopping for a house, they talked to a number of lenders, but always kept coming back to Isom.
“I’m sure I was getting on his nerves, calling him sometimes a couple of times a day,” Cameron Cruise said. “But he was so knowledgeable, thoughtful, and genuine. Most of all, he never tried to sell us anything or talk us into anything. He made us feel comfortable with the process.”
The NAACP’s Everette said the Houston office collaborates with many lenders in providing homebuying courses to the public, but Isom’s class always draws the biggest attendance.
“I tell you that I have never met anyone more passionate for what they do than Everett Isom,” she said. “He is emphatic about people getting the correct information to help them become strong homeowners, not giving them information about some new-fangled product that will get you in a house, but not keep you there. He’s a great presenter, listener, and very relatable. He meets people at their point of need. And the word gets around about that. He is sought after and in demand.”