New homeowner Gregory Scott, of Northeast D.C., once preferred to live in the 3rd Street Tunnel instead of the shelter across the street.
“In the winter it blows warm air and in the summer it blows cold air. I was able to live like that for some time,” said Scott, the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s second graduate of the Achieving Your Best Life (AYBL) program.
Scott, a native Washingtonian, took many steps on his path to achievement and homeownership. He had help from several local organizations along the way, including DCHA.
“Crack cocaine took control of my life for many years. That’s how I became homeless,” said Scott. “In the beginning it wasn’t like that.”
But one day he decided enough was enough. He sought help and treatment through So Other Might Eat and the Coalition for the Homeless. Those programs enrolled him in a 12-step program, where he is still a devoted member. They also helped him secure an efficiency apartment while in that program. They encouraged him to sign up for housing with DCHA. Soon he was in public housing.
He also successfully completed a job training program with the organizations and was hired at Soldiers Home on February 14, 2006. He started in food service and moved into housekeeping. After two years, he applied to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, where he remains today.
“As I started getting raises at my job, I got letters for the AYBL program,” he said.
AYBL was created in 2011, and is a combination of DCHA's Family Self-Sufficiency program and a similar homeownership program for Housing Choice Voucher Program participants. Public housing customers earning at least $32,000 can apply to be a part of the program that teaches them how to establish and increase credit and first-time home buying classes, among other topics, over a five-year period. During that time, participants live at either Columbia Road or Elvans Court and are treated more independently than in other types of public housing to better prepare them for homeownership. Their rent payments are set aside in an escrow account to be used in the future for a down payment on a house, for example.
Scott immediately jumped at the opportunity to move out of the public housing complex where he was living and take steps toward homeownership. He applied three times to the program. He was denied three times to the program.
So he wrote the program administrators a letter.
“I said, ‘Given the opportunity, I will not let you down,’” he said. “Then I got another letter. It said, ‘Congratulations, Gregory, you qualify!’”
He met with the DCHA team and enrolled in the program. Scott made sure that the DCHA team knew he was serious and fully committed.
"We were up for the challenge. We love when people come into the program with that mindset and level of commitment," said Ronald Fisher, the Family Self-Sufficiency manager. "It was easy for staff to identify the service providers to assist Mr. Scott on his journey to self-sufficiency."
He moved to Columbia Road Apartments and promised to maintain his work status. He took classes on first-time homebuying and credit counseling with another DCHA partner organization, Lydia’s House.
“I didn’t have credit cards in the beginning. I didn’t have none of that type of stuff,” he said.
DCHA also helped him work with the Home Purchase Assistance Program, or HPAP, run by the city government. There a counselor, Ms. Patricia McCoy, kept Scott in line, he said.
“At the end of the day, I understand why. She didn’t want [me] to get lax, get complacent,” Scott said. “There are so many requirements you had to do to get your home—keeping pay stubs, bank accounts, tax papers, various stuff like that.”
While working towards buying his first home, Scott continued at his job at the Gaylord. He began in the housekeeping department but soon got a promotion to the engineering department. He is now a guest services engineer. He works the evening shift and he fixes anything in a guest’s room that isn’t working properly—from the air conditioning unit to the electronic curtain rods.
“On Sunday and Monday, I am their engineer on duty. That means I am in charge of that entire building,” he said.
Scott’s hard work paid off. In 2014, Scott was awarded the J. Willard Marriott Award of Excellence. He was one of nine Marriott associates chosen worldwide.
“Out of 2,400 hotels, I was chosen for that highest award,” he said. Scott determination comes “through God’s grace, being diligent, through the 12-step program, and I want to say my mother’s upbringing.”
Two and a half years after he enrolled in the five-year AYBL program, Scott was ready to secure a loan and buy his home.
“I had my mind made up. I was determined I was going to be one of the first ones in my own home,” he said.
Sherry Smith, a supervisory quality control and integrity management specialist who also worked with the AYBL participants, first met Scott in the introductory meeting for the homeownership program in 2012.
“It was obvious that he was determined to accomplish any goal he set in life! He made it perfectly clear that he would not be in the program for the five-year term allowed by stating, ‘I don’t have five years to get this done!’” Smith said. “Not only does he have the determination to be successful, he does not forget his life’s journey and the desire to help those with similar circumstances with obstacles that were challenging when he ‘gives back’ to the community. He is truly ‘Achieving HIS Best Life.’”
With the help of the DCHA team, Scott found a real estate agent and loan officer and began searching for a home. The first home he found was not going to pass an inspection. After all of the work he did he was ready to give up. DCHA’s Alice Revel convinced him to stay in the program. She took him to an empty lot. She said an affordable housing community was going to be built there and he could purchase a townhouse in three months. He was unsure if the pile of dirt he was staring at would grow a townhouse, but it did.
“I rolled over about three months later and I said, ‘Wow!’” Scott said with a laugh.
Revel, a homeownership coordinator, said, “Upon meeting Gregory Scott, I found him to be very organized, determined, and excited about the opportunity to become a first-time homebuyer. He was very grateful for the opportunity to purchase a home. It was indeed a pleasure working with Gregory Scott, and he still finds the time to say in touch. “
He followed the steps the developer wanted and submitted the proper paperwork. He took another class required by the development team that went over do’s and don’ts of the neighborhood, explained the home owners association, interest rates, and more.
Closing on the house proved even more trying than finding a house, he said. Scott worked with his lenders to get a monthly mortgage payment he could handle. Then the lenders had more and more paperwork to do, causing his closing to be rescheduled several times. But he finally closed on his home in March 2014.
“That was overwhelming. From being a person sleeping in the 3rd Street Tunnel, strung out on drugs to becoming a first-time homebuyer,” Scott said. “It is an amazing accomplishment for me.”
Since moving to his home, he’s started his own business, Scott and Son Hauling and Moving.
“The 12-step program teaches you to have a vision and set goals,” said Scott, who is engaged. “I never thought in a million years I’d be an engineer, a J.W Marriott Employee of the Year, have a business, stop smoking cigarettes...Things like that I can accomplish in life.”
The name of the business reflects his plans for the future. His son is currently incarcerated, but is scheduled for release in the coming months.
“When my son does come home after 17 years...he can have that vision, too,” he said.
He continued, “It feels great. My life is great. I’m at peace. That is the most important thing, I’m at peace.”
On a recent day off, he went to a few appointments and was taking care of business around his house.
“It feels good. Sometimes it feels good just to pay a bill,” he said. “I didn’t have any for 10 years. Now when a bill comes through I pay it and feel responsible.”
He said he doesn’t try to glorify his past, he just tries to inspire others—especially those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. He is the secretary of his 12-step program.
“God had already planned this. It is his doing. He wouldn’t put more on my plate than I can handle. This is my purpose. This is my purpose in life,” Scott said. “Since he turned my life around now I need to help someone turn their life around.”
He said, “it is important for me to stay humble and help people.”
At one point, Scott began to dig for a photo he keeps close to him at all times. It is a photo of him in the tunnel, “out there on drugs. I always kept that picture. It’s a reminder of where I came from.”
He also suggested a title for this article.
“From the 3rd Street Tunnel to Becoming a First-Time Homebuyer,” he said. “If anybody can focus on that, they understand.”