Celebrating Homeownership Month

By Suzanne Anarde, RCAC chief executive officer

I love celebrating homeownership in June! So many things are at their best this month, including my yard, the weather and outdoor activities. Homeownership is very worthy of celebration—it supports the best outcomes for families, children and elderly folks and is the foundation for community stability.

I began my career in housing development in rural southeastern Colorado in the town of Fowler, population 1,248. Fowler is in Otero County and the organization I founded, Tri-County Housing, served Otero, Bent and Crowley counties. It all started with a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant to seed a homeownership housing rehabilitation program. As the program rolled out, I was a one-woman shop. I wrote the guidelines, developed the application and scoring system, served a board of directors and reported to the local governments that financially contributed to rehabs in their communities. I was also the home inspector, developed the scopes of work and did the estimates. I then put the projects out to bid and awarded them to local contractors. Nearly 87 percent of the housing in the lower Arkansas valley was close to 50 years old and almost 70 percent of the population had incomes less than 80 percent of the median household income. While homeownership was a consistent value, many homes were in disrepair and aged, which required moderate rehab work to meet safe and sanitary conditions or HUD Housing Quality Standards.

Through my work at Tri-County, I had unique access to underserved families, children and elderly residents and homeowners in the three counties I served. It also gave my children an opportunity to understand my work because as a single mom, they were often with me when I drove by a project or when I ran into families at ball games or the grocery store. My favorite memories of that time in my life and career are when I would see families/clients out in the community, and they would share with me how the housing rehab project Tri-County enabled and impacted their lives. Watching my children process that joy and gratitude was rewarding.

A particular memory  that stuck with me from my time at Tri-County Housing includes my daughter, Alexa, and one of her friends at day care. She was four or five at the time, and when I picked her up on a cold, wintery day, Alexa introduced me to her friend Taneka (not her real name). As she introduced me, she said, “Mom, this is Taneka. She lives with her grandma … and they didn’t sleep last night because their heater is broken! Taneka, meet my mom. She fixes heaters.” Can you say, “mic drop”? While Alexa and I had a heart-to-heart that evening about not making promises about what Mom is able to do, it was a moment I think of often when I need a boost. Taneka’s grandmother owned her home and was raising three of her grandchildren. A major repair bill was not a minor budget issue. It was catastrophic. And she was terrified she would lose her home and custody of her grandchildren. Taneka and her grandmother got a new furnace with help from LEAP, a USDA 504 grant and a Tri-County sourced contractor. Homeownership was key to the grandmother’s ability to retain custody of her grandchildren and her financial stability.

As I have shared frequently, I believe homeownership is one of the richest blessings a person can have in life. Home provides a place to heal and to rest; to love and be loved; and for warmth and comfort. I believe homeownership is a value that is passed from generation to generation, and I am proud of the work that RCAC and the self-help network do to ensure there is opportunity for many first-generation families to experience homeownership and demonstrate that commitment to their children and extended family.

As we celebrate homeownership this month, I am reminded of a quote from Jane Bryant Quinn.

“…A home of our own is still the rock on which our hopes are built…Homeownership is a state of mind. It’s your piece of the earth. It’s where a family’s toes grow roots…”