With its oldest location being located at 1515 Fairmount Ave., Project H.O.M.E has been a staple in the Francisville community for over 20 years. The Francisville location offers 48 rental opportunities, primarily for patrons with a history of mental illness. However, in addition to that, Project H.O.M.E has dedicated part of its time and efforts toward providing affordable housing for below-average income qualifiers.
The criteria for the program are relatively simply. In order to qualify, a person must be a first-time homebuyer, earn less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, have a credit score of at least 650, have an established savings account with a minimum of $1,000 saved and have a consistent work history going back at least two years. Once someone has qualified, the person is added to a waiting list. If the person does not immediately meet the requirements, they can go through housing counseling, said Jill Roberts, the community development project manager of Project H.O.M.E.
“Really, housing counseling equals credit counseling,” Roberts said. “If you want to buy a home and you’re not a high-income person, somebody might say to you, ‘Why don’t you go through housing counseling?’ There, they train people to go through their statements and their budget. You can own a home, but you need to do a few things. You may need to dispute charges, pay down credit cards to get your credit in check. Anybody can buy a house if they get approved for mortgage.”
Once meeting the requirements, the candidate could spend an extended period of time on the list. During that time, it’s crucial that a candidate stays vigilant when it comes to saving and credit maintenance, Roberts said.
“We call people up when we have the next round of houses being built and we see if they’re still interested,” Roberts said. “Sometimes they’ve been on the waiting list for up to five years. If they’re ready, we go ahead with it. Sometimes they haven’t been saving any money and that shows that they’re not ready. It’s not just putting you on a waiting list. It’s about doing the work to be ready when the house is ready. People sort of have a misunderstanding that if they put their name on the waiting list, they’ll be able to get a house. That isn’t it. You need to do some work.”
According to a report from the Econsult Corp., Philadelphia has 40,000 abandoned or vacant houses. Project H.O.M.E obtained 44 of those properties in 2007 and through funding from the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Portion of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s Homeownership Choice program, managed to provide affordable housing to the needy. Despite the generous influence behind the program, the candidate needs to continue to work hard in order for the process to be a successful one.
“It’s not free, It’s not a giveaway,” Roberts said “You have to put money away, you have to make sure you pay your bills on time so when we get you on the phone, you’re ready to go.”
With funding coming in through a variety of sources, including both the federal and state governments, the majority of the backing comes in through organizations and corporations. While that side of the program can not be ignored, the community in which the houses are being constructed is equally important to the success of the project, Roberts said.
“I would never say that these projects would happen if it wasn’t for the partnerships we have with funders and city officials, but it also requires the community,” Roberts said. “If the people don’t want you there, there’s no point in going there because you’re not going to be successful. The people that move in aren’t going to be successful because they’re going to be ostracized and they’re not going to be welcome.”
The need for involvement with the community is not only beneficial for the candidate being introduced into the community, it is also relatively easily obtained, said Dwayne Murray, founder of YOUTHSTARS, a local faith-based community service organization.
“There are neighborhood organizations that would help them bridge the gap,” Murray said. “In favor of the construction projects, I would hope that they be more susceptible to the community and programs.”
With numerous success stories already in place, it would be easy for Roberts and Project H.O.M.E to rest on their laurels. However, with the abundance of vacant homes and overwhelming pockets of poverty within the city, the organization knows that its work may never be done.
“Are we happy with what we’ve done? Sure,” Roberts said. “Will we ever be finished? We’d love to be finished. We’d love that people never had to abandon their homes and that everybody had safe, affordable housing, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen tomorrow.”