Tag Archives: Housing

Fitting Independence in the Budget

When Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing and Financial Coach Carmen Phillips first met “C”, she was transitioning out of homelessness and back into her first apartment.  Due to her disability and low wages, C has always needed a roommate in order to afford housing.  Unfortunately, depending on a roommate to fulfill their half of the obligations proved detrimental to C’s financial stability and left her homeless yet again.  After several months of homelessness, she eventually managed to find a new roommate she had met at the local shelter and they got a new apartment. Despite some of C’s objections about saving money, she and Carmen continued to work together to build up her savings account just in case she found herself in a similar position in the future.  Because she receives disability and works part-time, it was hard for her to rationalize why she needed so much money in her savings account, since her disability was guaranteed.  Well, fast-forward to COVID-19.  Unfortunately, C was laid off from her part-time job and the very same month, her disability benefits were suspended due to some type of error regarding her wages.  She was now stuck in an apartment lease with zero income.  Fortunately, she had her savings to fall back on until her disability benefits were re-instated.  Throughout the pandemic, with the help of her stimulus checks and her unemployment, C managed to pay her rent, pay off her credit cards and build her savings up to $17,000. 

However, shortly thereafter, C’s roommate left unexpectedly, leaving her stranded with a 2 bedroom apartment and bills to pay. Fortunately, she had her savings account and decided to make a drastic move.  She took a portion of her savings and purchased a 5th Wheel Travel Trailer in order to have a home of her own.  C now owns her own place, does not have to depend on a roommate to split housing costs, pays less renting her RV spot than her apartment and has drastically lowered her electric bill, all while retaining $5,000 in her savings account.  C hopes to eventually save up her cash and purchase a small lot in order to completely eliminate paying monthly rent to anyone.

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s free resources for Financial Education, Homebuyer Education Services & Public Benefits. Our agency also has programs for Veterans, Service Members, and Military-Connected Families here.

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Thriving for a Better Life After an Unexpected Storm.

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Claudia and her family were heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and then to make matters worse, her husband unexpectedly left the family after the hurricane.  Due to these catastrophic events, Claudia fell behind on bills, and her family’s mental health started taking a steep decline.  She learned about Easter SealsHarvey Program from a neighbor, and she contacted our case managers for rental assistance.  Claudia received direct client assistance funding to cover rent, utilities, and basic needs- but moreover, she received support, kindness, and help with finding resources from her case manager.  Claudia got enrolled in the Food Scholarship Program and is receiving ongoing one-on-one financial coaching.  These are supports that have helped Claudia and her family get back on their feet, and to a place where they are feeling a little more in control again.  As of her most recent financial coaching session, Claudia reported that things are better- she is currently working full time, receiving healthy food twice a month, and she is seeing a positive change in children’s behavior.  She says her children are smiling more and able to focus on the things they need to focus on, for example- getting ready for school- and not worrying about what food they are going to eat that night.  Claudia is thankful for Easter Seals Greater Houston and eager to learn more from financial coaching.

 

Jenny Martinez, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Housing and Thrive Connection Houston

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There’s No Place Like Home

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Over 3 years ago, Heather  packed up her 2 young daughters Zoe then 6 weeks old and Riley 2, left an abusive relationship and everything that didn’t fit in her car and began a search for a home to raise her family.  After living in a succession of marginal rental situations – at one point living out of her car, Heather and her two young daughters moved in to their 3-bedroom home, close to family and work, and in the preferred school district.

It had not been easy, but Heather was determined and was quick to point out that it could not have been possible without the support of a team of housing professionals.

In January, she submitted an application to a housing counselor with Easter Seals Greater Houston for $14,500 of down payment assistance through the Montgomery County HOME Fund program and was approved.

With the down payment assured, she began working with Terry with Storehouse Mortgage to qualify for the mortgage loan.  Their budget was tight as she began paying down debt and building assets, but as Heather remarked, both Riley and Zoe understood that finding a permanent home was important and they all came together as a family to make it happen.

Heather began working with her realtor, Mike with Realty Solutions to find a property suitable for her family, proving to be a challenge.  Homes in her price range of $135,000 – 185,000   are the fastest to sell, and home-buyers like Heather even with committed financing must compete with cash buyers purchasing properties within the same day of listing.  Over the next several months, Mike presented multiple offers on homes with no success.  Finally in March Heather’s contract on a home was accepted, beating out eight other offers made the same day of listing. She would move from a ‘trailer’ home in an unsafe neighborhood for a home in a beautiful family-friendly neighborhood, with a mortgage payment $200+ less than her rent payment.  She pointed out that even her utility bills in the new home have been $200+ less.

The transition from renter to homeowner for families like Heather’s could not be possible without the support of  Easter Seals Greater Houston and their Financial Literacy, Home Buyers Education, FinTech and Case Management programming.

Moore 1On the local level, housing professionals such as lenders and realtors like Terry and Mike, and the Easter Seals HUD-certified housing counselors work to ensure that families like Heather’s secure sustainable mortgage products with all the financial support available. County agencies such as Montgomery County Community Development provide a number of programs such as the down payment assistance to help home-buyers purchase their first home.

On the community level,  non-profit coalitions such as United Way Greater Houston THRIVE continue to support housing counseling programs such as Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Housing Initiative.

On the macro level, NSEs such as our partner, Freddie Mac  help people in the military, veteran and care-giving communities, as well as those with disabilities, obtain affordable housing through renting or buying a home. They also constantly search for innovative ways to support affordable housing opportunities, such as their webinar series and other online resources.

It has been quite a journey for Heather and her daughters, but as she looks around her home, you can see the pride in her eyes at what they have accomplished. Now she would be proud for her children to invite friends over for sleepovers, and they can walk safely to the neighborhood park for birthday parties.

As Heather looked around her home filled with toys and the backyard filled with swings and wading pool, she remarked, “This feels like home.”

 

Katy Thorstenberg, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Housing Coordinator

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Recovering Together

Camp Discovery – named by putting the words Disaster and Recovery together – served families affected by Harvey and participating in counseling services through our Harvey Case Management Program.  It was a wonderful weekend retreat!  The families participated in typical camp activities like archery, horseback riding, nature, and a ropes course, as well as “team huddles” – mental health-focused break-out sessions for parents, teens, big kids, and little kids.

Harvey blog 3.JPGCamp Discovery was just one mental health support service made possible by the grants from Americares, Save the Children, and the Houston Harvey Relief Fund.  Through these grants, our team of case managers, mental health clinicians, financial stability coaches, and technology experts – impacted over 3000 families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

In late October a team of Easter Seals staff and volunteers hosted and facilitated a camp for families impacted by Hurricane Harvey at Camp For All.  Since then we have continued to serve people with disabilities and veterans through Harvey recovery and are proud to be a recipient of continued funding from The Mayor’s Fund and Enterprise / Heart so that we can continue in our efforts through housing assistance now. The experiences and memories made were more than words can describe. I will try my best to express what I witnessed and the successes I saw. Most of the families that attended our Camp Discovery shared that this was their first time having an experience like this, all together as a family unit, away from electronics, and in tune with the elements. Many shared that they were able to try things that they had never done before such as fishing, canoeing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and being able to interact and learn about new animals.harvey blog

There was awe and surprise from the very beginning.  When one family saw the retreat that would be their home for the weekend, one boy said, “This is the nicest place we’ve ever stayed!”  And the shyness of the families with each other dissipated very quickly.  By the close of the first night, just hours after having met, they were dancing together and enjoying s’mores around the campfire.

We had several little ones try out the tall rock climbing wall to later zip-line down. Two of our participants got “stuck” near the top of their goal and were ready to give up. Tears were shed and panic set in a bit as the goal to reach the top seemed unachievable and scary so high up from the ground. One mother became concerned but with support from the mental health team was able to turn her panic into words of encouragement. The mother, alongside the other campers, cheered on Jeffery and provided guidance on stabilizing his footing so that he could pull himself up to the ledge. Jeffery was successful and enthusiastically moved on to the next challenge- zip-lining back down.

One of our younger campers also struggled near the top of his rock wall experience, but he had climbed the wall alongside his mother and she was able to provide one on one support in the moment. The support staff watched in amazement at this mother’s immediate instinct to provide reassurance and support to our brave camper while also allowing him to do all the work to get himself up.

harvey blog 2Most of the weekend, I heard parents express how amazed they were about their children and their brave efforts to try out new things and face some of their fears.

The families shared how they surprised themselves with courage and willingness to try new things.

Many of the mothers commented that a win and success for the weekend was not having to cook while also enjoying all the activities with the family.

One mom, whose house had to be totally gutted, said that they had not put up any pictures yet.  She said the frames of family photos given at camp were going to be the very first frames they put up.

Another family reminded us that the camp experience brought back similar experiences from Harvey such as staying in a different place, eating food that was not “our own”, and adjusting to a different routine, but that camp opened the space to rewrite that story and make new fun memories with the family.

Erica Toskovich, LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Mental Health Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston 

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Financial Literacy Pays Off

It is Saturday, not yet 9—an early morning in The Woodlands with the promise of heat and humidity as people begin to arrive for the monthly Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Homebuyer and Financial Literacy class/Down Payment assistance workshop. Zip codes filling up the sign-in sheets speak of distance traveled that morning:  Harris, Ft. Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Walker Galveston, and  Chambers.  They come from neighborhoods from rural to urban, big city and small town, over a multi-county stretch.  They represent many different income, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, but all with the same purpose – qualifying for the down payment assistance program that will allow them to purchase a home.

Over coffee and doughnuts, the individual hoyo1stories take shape.  A widowed grandmother talks about the apartment complex where she has lived comfortably for the last 15 years but has struggled to pay the rapidly increasing rent over the last few years.  Living on a fixed income with little assets, meeting her monthly rent payments had become unsustainable, and homeownership seemed to be a pipe dream without some kind of assistance.

A young couple with 2 young children spoke of their need for space, a backyard, and safe sidewalks where their kids could bike to neighbors or area parks.

One single Mom of 2 children, who had survived on rental assistance through the county, proudly talked of her now stable job with the expectation of finally owning her own home close to her children’s school.  Without down payment assistance that dream of homeownership would remain just that – a dream, as even with good credit and little debt, qualifying for a home she could afford on her income would be impossible without some down payment assistance.

hoyo-staff-and-family-close-upOver the course of the morning, all the local, state and federal down payment assistance programs were reviewed.  Mortgage guidelines were discussed and the steps towards homeownership were outlined.  Each of these families left class that day with a plan before them, and some months later, all are now proud property owners of a home of their choice.

Homeownership is not for everyone, nor is it something that happens over night; however, with the help of the Easter Seals Greater Houston housing team, commitment to your financial goals, and perseverance, it is attainable.

Whether this is your first home or a move back into homeownership after years of renting, the homebuyer class/ Down Payment assistance workshop is a great first step towards one of the most important purchases of your life.

For more information on Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Homebuyer/Down Payment Assistance workshops or #BankOn, email: kthorstenberg@eastersealshouston.org.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Initiative, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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THRIVE Connection

Easter Seals’ clients, volunteer and staff alike are people who embody the “can do” attitude of not just survival but the ability to thrive while facing the challenges of our lives with disabilities and abilities. One particularly complex test relates to the financial needs and desires of families when at least one member has special needs.  The additional financial cost can vary from average $HOYO3  108 to $8742 per year, according to one public health study. We all know that “cost” is not only defined as dollars and cents, but in time and energy to care for all the members of a household. This is where THRIVE Connection can help. It is the financial education and coaching program piece of the Housing Initiative here at Easter Seals and an initiative lead by United Way Greater Houston and many other amazing local npo’s as a collaborative partnership.

The THRIVE Connection has financial coaches on hand to help individuals and families look that their financial history and help them plan and reach their goals. As each family is different so are their goals. The coaches assist with creating household bud???????????????????????????????get to create savings plans for emergencies or school tuition for family members, improving credit scores with debt reduction plans and financial preparation for first-time home ownership. Clients can receive individual financial coaching or attend small group sessions of Housing Orientation Seminar and Credit Boot Camp.  When a client is financially ready to purchase their home, the HUD-approved Home Buyer Education class is available. THRIVE connection at Easter Seals is part of the larger THRIVE collaborative through the United Way Greater Hohoyo 3uston network of agencies with programs that assist and support families in reaching their future goals.  The various programs are available around Houston. The Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing Orientation Seminars take place at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center. ESHG Credit Boot Camps and Home Buyer Education classes are held at our agency offices in Bellaire and The Woodlands. Individual financial coaching appointments occur at the main office in Bellaire. For more information or to schedule an appointment call 713-838-9050.

by Michele Schauer, THRIVE Connection at Easter Seals Greater Houston

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