Jirmaine Cunningham was ready to move. She wanted to do something more for her three children. She had lived at Woodland Terrace for about seven years before she learned about one of DCHA’s homeownership programs.
“At first I had to see how much it cost and what I had to do, but I was ready to leave Woodland,” she said.
So she attended the introductory meeting for public housing customers interested in homeownership. Cunningham listened to all of the requirements and heard about all of the work she had to do to make her way towards the purchase of her own home. She decided that she was going to give it a shot.
She moved her family to a DCHA designated reward property where most of the neighbors also participate in the Achieving Your Best Life (AYBL) homeownership program. Then she started attending meetings in the building that helped prepare all of the residents for owning a home.
For up to five years, DCHA will provide support and training to customers as they prepare for the responsibilities of homeownership and securing a mortgage in the AYBL program. Each AYBL participant works directly with a Family Self-Sufficiency case manager to develop an individualized plan to buy a home. A portion of the customer’s rent paid goes into an escrow account, while the remaining amount goes toward future home maintenance. That escrow account can then be used to help cover costs of purchasinga new home--such as a down payment, inspections, or appraisal fees.
In addition to saving for a down payment, customers work within the program to increase their income, improve their credit, and learn about home maintenance.
“There were plenty of times I thought about getting out of it. I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford it,” Cunningham said, noting that the program’s managers helped to boost her confidence and encouraged her to stick with it. “Every year, I was there. The rent went up and I was worried about feeding kids and paying rent...But it worked out. It never went so high I couldn’t afford it.”
AYBL Coordinator Sherry Smith said that Cunningham’s persistence and focus helped her succeed.
“Her payment history was impeccable. She was one of the best at keeping up with her goals and following all of the guidelines for the program,” Smith said. “I think she’ll be very successful because she stayed focused on what was important to her.”
For five years, Cunningham continued to work and get promoted at D.C.’s Department of General Services, saving money along the way. She worked with representatives from Lydia’s House and the Urban League of Greater Washington to prepare for home ownership. She took classes, was certified as completing their courses, and was then able to apply for Housing Purchase Assistance Program funding. She made it over these hurdles and then began a six-month search for the perfect house.
“I had my eye on these as they were going up,” said Cunningham talking about the new townhomes built in Southeast by Stanton Development.
After making sure it was in her budget, she asked for a tour from Andrew Battle who was with the development team. She saw the spacious kitchen with the marble countertops and big cabinets. She would have her own bathroom. She knew where she would put the dining room table.
“I said [to the realtor], ‘Don’t sell this. I want this,’” she said. “It took a minute to go through closing, but I did it.”
She added, “This is pretty much the house I’ve always wanted...I explained to my kids I got this for them. If anything happens to me, then they are taken care of.”
Both of her daughters said they never doubted their mom’s pursuit.
Cunningham thanked all of the people who helped her along the way, including DCHA’s Alice Revel, Sherry Smith, and Cynthia Fletcher. She said she has been recommending the program to friends and colleagues.
“I got plans for this house,” she said. “I’m going to fix it up real nice.”