The saying ‘it takes a village’ can carry many meanings. For Aberdeen resident Michael Mitchell, it meant multiple organizations coming together to help homeowners like him find and purchase an affordable home.
Through a partnership between USDA Rural Development (RD), Homes Are Possible, Inc (HAPI), GROW South Dakota, and the Aberdeen Housing Authority, Michael was able to move into a new two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with an affordable mortgage and no upfront closing costs.
“HAPI and GROW South Dakota provided more than $12,000 towards closing costs and HAPI provided $20,000 towards the purchase of the lot,” said Roxanne Woodring, RD’s Loan Specialist in Single Family Housing. “Michael also qualified for a Housing and Urban Development voucher through the Aberdeen Housing Authority to help offset his monthly mortgage. Using multiple programs like this can make homeownership possible for low-income people.”
HAPI also built Michael’s home. “We had built it as a speculative (spec) home and our previous board president knew Michael was looking to move back to Aberdeen,” said Darin Beckius, HAPI’s Executive Director. “The timing really worked well. Word of mouth has brought a lot of buyers to HAPI and Michael is just another example of that.”
HAPI started in 1999 when a group of Aberdeen citizens realized a need for regional housing assistance. The program has since expanded to provide rehabilitation grants, build homes, and help with closing costs. “Our program has expanded as new needs were identified,” said Darin. “Because of partnerships with Rural Development and others, we’re able to provide even more services to those in need.”
When it comes to partnering with RD, Darin said Roxanne has been invaluable. “She has a heart of someone willing to go the extra mile and help someone through a complex situation,” said Darin. “We’re always reassured if we send someone her way, she’ll do whatever she can to help them.”
"It’s important to know the ins-and-outs before you buy a house.”
Brenda Waage, GROW South Dakota’s Housing Loan Officer, said both programs offer more than financial support to homebuyers. “Both HAPI and GROW offer homebuyer education courses so potential borrowers are better prepared for the challenges of homeownership,” said Brenda. “The course is the same for both HAPI and GROW. We provide rental counseling, budget counseling, and teach them about finding the right kind of insurance. It’s important to know the ins-and-outs before you buy a house.”
The homebuyer education courses are mandatory for HAPI and GROW borrowers, but Brenda said anyone can take the classes. “We encourage anyone interested in learning more about purchasing a home to reach out,” said Brenda. “We’ll connect them to a financial counselor who can get them started on the program.”
While not everyone will qualify for programs through RD, HAPI or GROW, Roxanne, Brenda and Darin each encourage potential borrowers to still reach out. “Sometimes the homebuyer’s income might be a little higher than our limits,” said Roxanne. “But if our program isn’t the right fit, we’ll help connect borrowers with other organizations that may be able to assist.”
Communities, business owners and homebuyers all benefit from relationships between GROW, HAPI, RD and others. “Our groups really have the best interest of communities in mind,” said Brenda. “Borrowers may not have the savings needed to make the down payments, so our combined effort allows them to still purchase a home.” Local businesses also see the benefits. “When a person buys a home versus renting, they’re more likely to stay in the community, which means businesses have reliable staff for longer periods of time,” said Brenda.
"It really makes my work very rewarding"
Michael said he really appreciates the work everyone has done to help him purchase his new home. “Roxanne has been so helpful and always answers my questions,” said Michael. “And the folks at HAPI and GROW reminded me of the things I needed to do as I bought this place.”
Roxanne has worked with many homeowners since joining the Single Family Housing program 20 years ago. She said working with homeowners like Michael makes her job so enjoyable. “He knew going into this it was going to take a little longer because of the number of partners,” said Roxanne. “But he was so patient, kind and fun to work with. It really makes my work very rewarding.”
RD offers multiple programs for homebuyers and homeowners. The Single Family Housing Direct Loans, for which Michael qualified, offers low or very-low income families in eligible rural areas with affordable loans. The Home Repair Loans and Grants program offers funds for very low-income homeowners who need to repair, improve or modernize their existing home to remove health and safety hazards. In many cases, RD programs can be combined with programs from other organizations.
Besides new construction, HAPI’s efforts to rehabilitate existing homes creates a stronger sense of pride amongst area homeowners. “As we’ve improved homes in neighborhoods, we a ripple effect take place,” said Darin. “Surrounding homeowners see the possibilities and many have said ‘I can do that, too,’ and we see that when we revisit those neighborhoods.”
HAPI has renovated about 25 homes each year, thanks in part to $500,000 in grants. “We recently redid a home that had been empty for about a year after a small fire,” said Darin. “There was about 5,500 pounds of material the firefighters had pulled from the house. Thanks to the grant, we made the house good as new.” Now borrowers through RD, GROW, or HAPI can make it their home.
“They really went the extra mile on building my house.”
HAPI prides itself in building high quality, affordable homes like Michael’s new home. “It’s real efficient,” said Michael. “I have really nice windows, LED lighting throughout the home, and a heat pump with a humidifier.” Michael adds that while his home is located only two blocks from the railroad tracks, he doesn’t hear the trains thanks to the quality of his home. “They really went the extra mile on building my house.”
GROW South Dakota has helped with closing costs for more than 1,500 homes since the program’s inception. “As a non-profit, we have more flexibility for families that might not qualify through traditional lending programs,” said Brenda. She encourages anyone interested in this or other programs to contact GROW with any questions.
USDA RD offers many Single Family Housing, Community Facilities, and Rural Business to support growth throughout South Dakota and its Tribal Nations. To learn more about our programs, visit rd.usda.gov/sd. To receive emails about new programs, press releases and RD stories, subscribe to South Dakota topics at GovDelivery. Follow us on Twitter at RD_SouthDakota.