WASHINGTON, DC – On June 21, 2016, the Obama Administration and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) honored Native Hawaiian homeowners, Gerald and Joreen Paakaula, and nonprofit HUD-approved housing counseling agency, Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA), at the Dare to Own the Dream event at the White House in honor of National Homeownership Month.
Mr. and Mrs. Paakaula and HCA were among only six homeowners and HUD-approved housing counseling agencies from across the nation chosen to be honored at the event. Participants shared their inspiring stories of how they overcame great odds to realize homeownership and were presented with awards from HUD Secretary, Julian Castro.
“We feel so blessed to be honored by the White House,” shared Gerald and Joreen Paakaula, who made the trip to Washington DC with support from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “Our hope is that our story will be an inspiration for others who have faced hardship so they continue on their path to become homeowners.”
“Gerald and Joreen’s success demonstrates that our continuum in housing counseling services model works,” said Rose Transfiguracion, the Paakaula’s HCA counselor.
HCA was also highlighted for its continuum in housing counseling services as a best practice for addressing affordable housing needs in high cost markets. The organization’s service delivery model uses customized renter, homebuyer, and homeowner housing counseling, match savings accounts, and micro-loans to move families from the beach to the biggest investment in their lifetime – a home. Since launching this model in 2011, HCA has assisted 1,598 Hawaii children and adults secure or sustain affordable housing.
“Gerald and Joreen’s success demonstrates that our continuum in housing counseling services model works,” said Rose Transfiguracion, the Paakaula’s HCA counselor. “We mahalo the White House and HUD for their recognition and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for providing the funding necessary to serve families like the Paakaulas.”
Finding Hope: How Gerald and Joreen Paakaula Beat the Odds to Achieve the Dream of Homeownership
Gerald Paakaula used to sit in his truck to eat lunch while on construction job sites in Hawaii. He would look out at the large, brand new housing developments he helped build and would wonder with tears in his eyes, “Lord, when will I get a chance to build my own home – when will it be my turn?”
A native Hawaiian beneficiary of Hawaiian Trust Lands, Gerald, and his wife, Joreen, had waited over 35 years for their chance to secure the dream of homeownership. Poor credit, lack of savings, and Gerald’s felony record stood as barriers keeping the family from moving forward on their journey to become homeowners.
In February 2015, Gerald and Joreen came to Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA), Hawaii’s largest HUD-approved housing counseling agency, to enroll in its Homebuyer Education Program. The Paakaulas gathered their financial documents and submitted their client intake packet to HCA. Shortly thereafter, they completed an 8-hour Homebuyer Education workshop that provided a certificate to qualify the family for homeownership on Hawaiian Trust Lands and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development mortgage financing. Through intensive counseling, the Paakaulas worked with their dedicated HCA counselor, Rose Transfiguracion, to establish a budget, review their credit report, and create an action plan for homeownership.
While working on their action plan, the family was hit hard with bad news. They informed Ms. Transfiguracion that they were facing eviction from their current rental. For the Paakaulas, homeownership was forced to the back of their mind and the fear of homelessness came to the forefront.
With only days left until eviction and no landlords willing to rent to the family due to Gerald’s history of incarceration, the Paakaulas found hope. Ms. Transfiguracion conducted a financial assessment, packaged their financial documents, and submitted with a recommendation letter to Kahikolu, a local faith-based nonprofit organization and landlord participating in the organization’s Hawaii Tenant Referral Services. The Paakaulas were approved for the rental within days and moved in immediately.
Today, they [Paakaulas] live with their children and grandchildren knowing that homeownership takes hard work, but with enough hope and dedication, dreams of owning a home can and do come true.
With renewed energy and drive, Gerald and Joreen drastically cut their unnecessary spending, started direct deposit to build their savings, and paid off two derogatory revolving accounts to increase their credit score to 678. By July 2015, the family secured mortgage pre-qualifications from Homestreet Bank and USDA, making them eligible lessees for Hawaiian Trust Lands’ Kanehili development in Kapolei, Oahu. The family stayed on track with their budget and managed to save $5,300 for down payment and closing costs.
In August 2015, with homeownership in sight, the family was hit hard again. Joreen called to inform Ms. Transfiguracion that Gerald had been laid off from his job. Worried, the family had no idea what to do and began to call emergency and transitional homeless shelters.
A few days later the Paakaulas found hope once again. Gerald had secured employment and in the same industry – the dream of homeownership was still alive!
At the end of December 2015, after 35 years of facing hardship after hardship, Gerald and Joreen did their final walk through of their beautiful 2-story, 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home in Kapolei with a yard and patio (see below). Today, they live with their children and grandchildren knowing that homeownership takes hard work, but with enough hope and dedication, dreams of owning a home can and do come true.
This article is reprinted with permission from Hawaiian Community Assets. Photos courtesy of HCA.
RCAC is a HUD-approved national intermediary, and as such, provides technical assistance, training, and financial support to many housing counseling agencies serving rural communities throughout RCAC’s service area. Judy Hunter, RCAC housing counseling manager and HUD Housing Counseling Federal Advisory Committee member, attended the ceremony.