YNDC Classes Encourage First-Time Home Buyers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Bernadette Elliott can hardly contain her excitement. She’s eagerly awaiting the opportunity to make an offer on her dream house that sits near the former Idora Park on the south side of Youngstown.

“I’ve already started the mortgage process at the bank,” Elliott says.

For her, it’s a moment she thought might never come. One of eight children, she would be the first in her family to own a house.

Her journey toward homeownership began with HUD-approved counseling at the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. The program is designed to help prospective homeowners overcome obstacles to becoming – and remaining – one. It is a component in YNDC’s strategy to make Youngstown neighborhoods more stable.

“It’s a beneficial program,” Elliott says, “not just for me, but for the entire city.”

It took Elliott about a year to approach the YNDC after she learned of the program.

“I was a little hesitant,” she recalls. “It seemed too good to be true.”

But her experience with Tammi Neuscheler, housing client manager at YNDC, soon put her at ease, Elliot says. “She started by printing out my credit report, and we went through it line by line.”

“We educate clients on the entire home-buying process,” Neuscheler says, “but a lot of the beginning focus is on the financial side.” Many residents are in need of some degree of “credit repair,” she says. A few have no credit history at all.

“The ideal to a lender is three active trade lines with 12 months of on-time payment history,” Neuscheler says.

At the first appointment, clients create a household budget based on their knowledge of their own spending. Before the second appointment, clients must track their expenses for a month. “You get homework,” Elliott says. “You get a sheet, and it tells you what to work on for the next time you meet.”

Working toward resolving barriers to homeownership is distinct for every prospective homeowner, says YNDC housing director Tiffany Sokol.

“Everyone is in a different place,” she explains. “Everyone is coming from a different situation, and everyone has a different level of resources to address their issues.”

It took Elliott a year and a half to make it through the program, but time to completion varies.

“For a good majority of people, it’s going to take six to 12 months, on the conservative side,” Neuscheler says. However, she’s counseling some who remain in the program since its inception in 2014.

“I’ve had eight or nine people come from the YNDC program,” says Cortland Bank Vice President Mark Chuey, a retail mortgage-lending officer. “The success rate so far has been almost 100%.”

The credit counseling that prospective homeowners get at YNDC fully prepares them to sit down with a lender. “So by the time they come to us, they’re ready to buy,” Chuey says.

In 2010, YNDC started acquiring properties in Youngstown and then renovating them for sale.

Pictured: Tammi Neuscheler and Tiffany Sokol help city residents put their finances in order.

“Throughout the process, we realized there weren’t a lot of folks who were able to get mortgages to buy these homes,” Sokol says. “You can rehab a beautiful home. But if there’s no one who can buy it and live in it, what have you accomplished?”

Between 2007 and 2012, the annual number of traditional house mortgages in Youngstown fell 75%, to 115 from 465, according to YNDC’s 2014 annual report.

In 2012, YNDC established the Community Loan Fund in partnership with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, the city of Youngstown and Home Savings Bank. That allowed YNDC to begin underwriting mortgages. The agency ultimately underwrote 24 for homeowners who couldn’t obtain a mortgage from a traditional lender.

Those funds have since been exhausted, but YNDC continues to renovate houses for sale in the city. To date, it has rehabilitated 70 properties and plans to renovate 30 more this year, Sokol says.

YNDC also hopes to begin lending again, she adds. “We are working hard toward becoming a certified CDFI [community development financial institution] with the U.S. Treasury, which would allow us to recapitalize and start lending again.”

Many clients who inquire about the counseling program are looking to purchase a property from YNDC. But that’s not a requirement, Sokol says.

And some clients leave the program without buying a house. The definition of success isn’t necessarily tied to homeownership. “Success is sometimes the recognition that home ownership isn’t for you,” Sokol says, “and we’ve had clients say that.”

But there’s almost always a path for those who feel home ownership is right for them, Neuscheler adds.

“There are very few people for whom the program can’t be successful,” she emphasizes. “It’s just a matter of getting started, doing the work and taking the time.”

Pictured at top: Bernadette Elliott is preparing to become the first person in her family to buy a house.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.