Sharon Brown decided at an early age that she and her two sons would never end up on the street. When Brown was a child she and her mother went through a rough housing patch and her determination to never go through that again became a driving force.
“Most of my motivation was, ‘I have to get a house,’” she said. “I would never ever have my kids on the street.”
At age 23, when she first entered public housing at Arthur Capper Carrollsburg with her two sons, she never thought she would own her own home. “Not in a million years,” said Brown.
Brown was raised in Northwest, but started her journey with the District of Columbia Housing Authority in Southwest. She said she never considered living outside of Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan, but she was offered a huge apartment at Arthur Capper Carrollsburg. She knew people in the neighborhood. The school and laundromat were close by. She raised her boys for 11 years before DCHA received a grant to redevelop the neighborhood. Like all DCHA redevelopments, Brown was offered a choice of either getting a voucher or moving to another public housing property.
“I’m glad I got the voucher,” she said. “I knew I could pay rent. I work all of the time...Having the voucher means you have a choice.”
She found a nice house in Shaw and stayed for seven years. Then she moved to Southeast, using her voucher to rent another house for six years. But she grew tired of dealing with her landlord. She decided to look for a new place to call home.
At one property in District Heights, Maryland, the woman showing the house suggested Brown think about buying a home of her own. Brown said she scoffed at the idea.
“I let it go,” Brown said. “She said they had different programs to help. I was like, ‘Mmhmm,’ because I knew my credit was bad.”
She hadn’t thought another second about the idea until she was picking up a new voucher at DCHA headquarters. She heard about the Homeownership Assistance Program and was told to call Homeownership Coordinator Alice Revel.
“After the phone call I was a little excited,” said Brown, who waited anxiously to hear when the introductory meeting about the program would be scheduled.
It took a few months but that initial meeting happened. Revel explained to the group what was involved in the HOAP program and how much work it was going to take.
“My attitude was, ‘I’m going to do it. I know I’m going to do it. I can do it,’” she said.
Brown said she would give everything she had until she reached the goal of owning her home. She already had a good job working at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel in housekeeping. She could produce W-2’s and paystubs easily. Her main issue was old debt hurting her credit.
She worked with community organizations to negotiate with her debtors. Brown then came up with a payment plan to pay off the largest debt first. Then she would work to settle the next one and pay it off. Waiting for the letters that said she was debt free was tortuous, Brown said, but it was worth it to get her credit score above 700 points.
“That is how it came to fruition,” she said. “I saved my money. I held onto my tax refund for dear life.”
Brown, and other eligible families, can receive subsidy assistance to help with the monthly mortgage. There are other District programs that can assist potential, first-time homeowners.
“We have our families work with local community-based organizations that are affiliated with D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development on homebuyer education, credit counseling, Housing Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) applications, and more,” Revel said.
Once a person completes the homebuyer education and counseling programs, they receive a certificate of completion and the HPAP grant application as evidenced by a notice of eligibility. This signals to the homeownership coordinators that the family is ready to go to a lender and get preapproved for a mortgage loan. “Ms. Brown was sitting in my office. I said, ‘Are you ready to buy a home?’ And she just started crying. She was saying, ‘I just never thought this would happen to me,’” Revel said.
Once she had gotten her certificate that she had passed all of the classes to own a home, her HPAP notice, and loan approval, she could begin her search. It was hard. There weren’t a lot of houses in her price range that she liked. With the help of her friend in real estate, she found beautiful homes, but didn’t like the neighborhoods they were in. She continued the search.
Revel suggested Brown check out a new affordable neighborhood that was being built by Stanton Development not far from the house she was currently renting. Brown reached out to Andrew Battle with the firm to get a tour of the house. Battle and his company were familiar with Revel and DCHA’s homeownership programs, making Brown feel at ease.
She loved the foyer and the two-car garage. She loved that there was room for her grandchildren to visit. She wasn’t as happy about the carpet, but “I’d be a fool not to take this just because of the carpet,” she said.
She chose an inspector from the homeownership classes who she liked and scheduled a home inspection.
“I remembered what to look for. I remembered that from the class. I remembered everything,” she said.
She lined up the title company and filled out all of the necessary paperwork.
“Once I knew I had help and the government had my back, there was no stopping me,” said Brown, who closed in September 2016. “I cried like a baby. I knew I could do it.”
After settlement, Brown had to establish a major maintenance repair fund to be on hand to take care of future unexpected problems that might arise with a new home, said Revel.
All of her hard work paid off. She now owns a brand new home in Southeast. Brown said she is especially proud that she has something to leave to her sons in the future.
“I encourage anybody to jump on the bandwagon,” she said. “It was work, but I was determined.”