Catholic Charities Housing Services building track record of success
Catholic Charities Housing Services runs a program to help low-income residents improve their credit, get a mortgage and finance a down payment. Over the course of five years, the group has quietly built 48 houses with two-car garages in grassy, curbed subdivisions of Mabton and Sunnyside. Now, its sights are set on a 12-parcel neighborhood in Grandview.
MABTON, Yakima County — In the three years in their home, Adrian and Susie Corona have torn out the carpet and installed laminate. They've also painted their three daughters' bedrooms — pink, purple and blue.
And they fought City Hall over the location of their fence. They lost, but at least it was their fence to fight about.
"Just to make it our own," said Adrian, explaining all the changes they've made to their two-story home on Skylstad Street.
The Coronas, both aspiring teachers taking classes at Heritage University, are among a few dozen families in Yakima County able to buy their own homes through Catholic Charities Housing Services, which runs a program to help low-income residents improve their credit, get a mortgage and finance a down payment.
The organization, started in 1998, is perhaps better known for building apartments for farmworkers and elderly and low-income renters — projects often greeted with public opposition.
But over the course of five years, the group has quietly built 48 houses with two-car garages in grassy, curbed subdivisions of Mabton and Sunnyside. Now, its sights are set on a 12-parcel neighborhood in Grandview.
"We continue to look in different communities," said Bryan Ketcham, executive director of Catholic Charities Housing of Yakima.
Despite the weak economy and its toll on the housing market, Catholic Charities Housing can boast that not one of its owner-occupied homes has fallen into foreclosure, Ketcham said.
The houses sell for $145,000 to $150,000, Ketcham said, while their clients make no more than $38,400 a year — 80 percent of the county's median family income.
Owners can afford to buy because the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides 80 percent of the loan, while a local lender contributes the rest. Other government and nonprofit programs often loan money for down payments, forgiving them if the families stay in the home for at least five years, Ketcham said.
Demand for low-income housing has held up despite the economy, said Kim Herman, executive director of the state Housing Finance Commission, which uses bonds to loan money through banks and credit unions to low-income, first-time homebuyers.
Since 1983, the commission has stimulated the lending of more than $128 million for nearly 1,700 house purchases.
The high rate of foreclosures nationwide has driven down the price of houses, bringing record-low interest rates and making buying attractive to people who otherwise wouldn't think of owning a home.
Weighing against the favorable trends, however, are unemployment and tougher credit requirements from lenders.
Since July, the state commission has financed 32 loans in Yakima County with an average amount of $130,000. Of those, 24 also borrowed for their down payment.
"It's often not the monthly payment that's the barrier," Herman said.
Especially in Yakima County. Elsewhere in the state, the commission made down-payment loans in only half the cases.
Credit scores are another hurdle.
Catholic Charities sometimes works with families for more than a year before handing over keys, helping them draft debt-repayment plans.
The organization also requires 250 hours of "sweat equity," which the homeowners meet by laying sod, painting, cleaning up work sites and pulling weeds.
The Coronas were among the first three families to move into Catholic Charities' first subdivision, Mabton's New Life Villas. All the families worked side-by-side on each others' homes, getting to know each other before becoming neighbors.
While they waited for their home, the Coronas lived with Susie's parents in Zillah, sharing one large upstairs bedroom. During that time, they consolidated their remaining credit debt, which had been as high as $9,000 because of tuition at Yakima Valley Community College.
And they waited. For months, counselors with Catholic Charities told them to expect closing at a moment's notice.
"We were like, 'Whatever,' " said Susie, pregnant with a fourth child due in March. "Until we get the keys."
Almost one year ago, they got the keys. They recalled walking around their new home, sparsely furnished with the few things they brought from Susie's parents' house.
"It was so quiet and so clean," Adrian said.