“When we walked in, I felt like an imposter - Like I just stole somebody’s house,” said Michael Carlos, a Houlton, Maine native and fiancé of Sakoya Blackwell, a member of the Maliseet Indian Tribe in Houlton. “I couldn’t believe it was really ours.”
For years, their family faced housing challenges that went from difficult to worse.
“The most recent house we lived in was being sold and we only had 30 days to get out. We wound up living on the reservation,” said Sakoya.
Sakoya, Michael and their two young daughters, Zaraiah and Zarayda, found themselves living in a small apartment with seven other units in the building.
Apartment living offered little in the way of peace and quiet. “You could hear banging on the walls, arguments, people talking and their TVs blaring,” said Sakoya. “The neighbors would sit out back at 1 a.m. laughing and yelling, waking up Zarayda who had school in the morning.”
The girls could not go out and play. There was no sense of home. Sakoya and Michael knew they had to find safe, affordable housing.
They reached out to Four Directions Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that helps Native American Tribes in Maine improve social and economic conditions of Tribes through education and investment in affordable housing, Tribal business ventures, and Native entrepreneurship.
“We worked with Four Directions for four years and I did a lot of financial counseling to work on my credit,” said Sakoya. “When I got to the point where my credit needed to be, they helped me apply for loans, and USDA Rural Development (RD) was the one that was the best fit.”
When they were approved for the RD loan, the housing market was becoming more difficult and finding a house was becoming a challenge.
“We looked at a bunch of houses, but they just weren’t livable. And the ones that were, they were already pending.”
During the hunt to find a home, they were at Michael’s mother’s house and the realtor said, “I can show you that one,” as he pointed across the street.
The house being located right across the street from his mom's wasn’t the only interesting thing about it—Michael knew it well. It was the home where his childhood best friend used to live. Michael had grown up playing at the same house.
“I used to play in this backyard,” said Michael. “It’s pretty cool that the girls are learning how to ride their bikes in the same place I did.”
When the family moved into the house, the girls’ disposition changed. Where once space was limited at their apartment home, there was now a large yard to play in, and a double garage where their toys are currently being stored until the family finishes unpacking.
Sakoya said, “The girls used to come home from school and go to their rooms and their mood was just down; but now they are happy and want to go play with their toys in the garage.”
Now, the girls can go outside, and they get to live across the street from their grandma (Michael’s mom). Another bonus; their childcare provider lives right next door.
“We know they are safe, and that nothing’s going to happen to them,” said Sakoya. “They can just be themselves.”
The safety and affordability of their new home are not the only reasons to celebrate this milestone; Sakoya and Michael both understand the importance of generational wealth.
“It is such a relief knowing that we can pass this house on to my girls,” said Sakoya. “My mom struggled. She still lives on the reservation. I know my kids have a jump start in life - something I didn’t have.”
Through all of the challenges and struggles, Michael offers words of advice to those looking for assistance.
“If you have any doubts about going through USDA, just do it,” he says. The smiles on the faces of the couple's little girls make it easy to see why.
Visit RD's Single Family Housing Programs page to find a program that might help your family.