Milestones: The Application Process
There are four major parts to the application process: intake meeting, stage 2 documents, home visit, and final approval. Throughout the process, NOAHH’s Family Services Case Managers walk every applicant through each step.
For Brittney Smith and her longtime boyfriend Vincent Evans, the process was guided by Ms. Patsy. At the intake meeting, she walked them through what to expect from the program, helped them fill out the application, and ran their credit reports.
“I made an appointment,” Brittney said. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. That was the first time I saw Ms. Patsy. And she broke it down about how the organization is and how it works and what all the requirements are. She let me know ahead of time that it is a process, so once you get approved, you’ll start your journey on becoming a first-time homeowner. [Patsy was] very nice, down to earth. That nervousness that I had, she made it just go away. Every question, she answered it just right on the spot and just put me at ease.”
“[Brittney] was nervous and happy, because it was finally happening, because we had been waiting for so long to get into a program that could help us be homeowners,” said Vincent. “We got tired of the high prices of rent in New Orleans right now. I hate to say it, but what’s going on in New Orleans right now, the rent is too high. The locals, the people who have been here for decades, we’re gonna be pushed out.”
“We were determined,” Vincent said. “Once she got the phone call done, the second part was finding out what documents to bring, what she had to do to be eligible.”
The next step was the Stage 2 meeting, where Brittney brought in all of the necessary documents, including pay stubs, bank statements, and tax documents.
“Patsy made sure to give me a good period of time to grab all that was needed to be given to her, and before you knew it, we were here again,” said Brittney. “She processed everything, and she said, ‘I’ll give you a call and let you know.'”
At the appointment, they found out Brittney had some debts to pay down.
“I just had one little thing on my credit,” Brittney said. “I went and did an installment payment plan, and [Patsy] said, ‘Once you finish, just bring in the paper to show proof that it’s done.’ [Vincent and I] got together and set up a plan. Well, we knew how much the rent is a month. We knew to have that together. The nursery bill is the same. Then there’s your light and your water. Then you have extra. Once it was done, I sent it to her.”
Between her work and Vincent’s, and some couponing to save money, they managed to pay off what they needed. Once the paper work was in, Patsy brought their file to the Family Selection Committee. The first time an application is brought to committee, the committee looks at their ability to pay a 0% Habitat mortgage and other monthly payments required for homeownership. Brittney had worked hard to clear her debt and showed that she could afford the payments.
“I was nervous, because I was like, ‘well, somebody might say ‘no.’ I didn’t know what to expect,” said Brittney.
After the committee reviewed her file, they approved her for a home visit. When Patsy called her to tell her she was moving to the next step, Brittney celebrated with her co-worker Ticara Hawkins.
“I was at work when she called,” said Brittney, “so I screamed at the top of my lungs. They thought something was wrong. Everybody was coming around saying, ‘Brittney, what’s the matter?’ ‘They’re gonna come to my house! They’re gonna come and check the house! I’m one step closer!’ Ticara said that once the y come see the house, then get ready to get your shirts!”
Ticara is also a Habitat homeowner, and she first told Brittney about the program.
“She started off by saying how good the program is and everything,” said Brittney. “I was kinda skeptical about it. She said, ‘Why not give it a try? Either they say, ‘Yes, we can help you’ or ‘No, we can’t.’ At first, I thought it was how all the regular realtors were, like rent-to-own, how you have to go through this long mountain of paper work, trying to come up with like $15,000 just to put down. And then you gotta worry about the taxes, and before you know it, they just throw you to the wolves. [Ticara] broke it down and said, ‘They’re with you every step of the way.’ That’s what made me say I’d go give it a try. They’re not gonna just throw you out there. They’re here to help you.”
The home visit is when NOAHH employees visit the current living space of the applicants and determine their need for shelter. For many future homeowners, the need is based on over-crowding or high rents, but for Brittney and Vincent, it was based on the condition of their rental. They had lived in many places over the last ten years, and rising rents and poor maintenance at each place often forced them to move, especially when they were worried for their children.
“One place, they didn’t much wanna take care of their houses,” said Vincent. “Then we just left this other place that we thought was good, but it turned out not. We had to move. The place where we live right now, it’s pretty comfortable, but the neighborhood is not as good.”
The place they had during the home visit stood out among the many places they had lived in.
“They came through and at first, they thought I was over-exaggerating about the house,” said Brittney. “They had to see it for themselves. It was a disaster, between the ceilings sinking, the floors sinking, termites, mold. I have asthma; my son has asthma. How in the world did the owners let the house fall down like this?”
“We just experience a flood over there, too,” said Vincent. “We were ready to get out of there. All the houses we lived in, rented from other relatives, we never had a flood. That was a terrible year for us in the house. We did one year, and that one year felt like decades.”
“We were all on pins and needles,” added Brittney. “If you open the door, would the ceiling fall? If you step on a crack, would you fall in the floor? It was terrible. Even though the owners knew all the stuff going on in the house, they still refused to let us go.”
“They had an incident,” said Vincent. “A raccoon was in the ceiling. I called them and told them to get somebody out there. Raccoons carry rabies–I was afraid for the kids. They said they couldn’t afford the money for wildlife.”
Brittney said, “They needed to just come out there if they can’t afford someone. They should have come out there and put a cage or something up.”
After the committee visited, Brittney and Vincent were confident.
“We were feeling like… ‘Yes. They’re gonna help us,'” said Brittney.
After they were approved, Patsy called Brittney, finding her at work once again.
“A big weight was just lifted,” said Brittney. “Like somebody was holding you down. Before you know it, she said, ‘You’re approved.’ It just lifted straight up. I still get chills every time I think about that moment. I seen Ticara and I said, ‘This is gonna sound funny, but I want a hug.’ I just told her, ‘Thank you so much.’ If she wouldn’t have said anything, I would never know about Habitat.”
“This is something we been praying for for a very long time,” said Vincent. “Since my first born [eight years ago]. I was like, ‘God, please, let something happen.’ We were trying to apply to Section 8 also. That didn’t happen, but this is ten times better than Section 8.”
Their children, however, haven’t been told just yet.
“We want to surprise them,” Brittney said. “The kids just think it’s another [rental] house. When we get there, they’re gonna look around thinking it’s somebody else’s house. We’ll tell them, ‘This is your house.'”
“We’re waiting for them to have their privacy in the yard,” said Vincent. “They don’t have to worry about going in nobody else’s yard, or some dog biting them, or something just happening unexpectedly.”