Jorge Casas has been helping Bostonians buy their own homes since 2001 first as a volunteer and later as an employee at the Dorchester-based Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA). He worked most recently as the agency’s HomeSafe program manager before retiring after 18 years with the organization. The Reporter caught up with him last month as he was wrapping up his final homebuying class.
Q. What had you been doing before you joined up with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance?
A. I started working with MAHA in 2001. At the time I was working with the Building Materials Resource Center (now Boston Building Resources) helping homeowners fix up their homes through a reuse/recycle program of building materials. While there, I started volunteering doing the homeowner education classes at MAHA with my mentor, the late John Rowse, who taught me the basics about teaching a home maintenance class to new homeowners. After a while MAHA started a search for a coordinator for their post-purchase classes, I applied and the rest is history.
Q. What has your work been like?
A. It has been a great experience. I coordinated the post- purchase classes which have three main parts: 1. General introduction about the importance of homeownership, safety and security, property management and maintenance, and insurance; 2. Money management/foreclosure prevention; and 3. Legal issues for landlords or condo owners. When I started working at MAHA they only had landlord training classes but with time and the changes in the real estate market and the popularity of condominiums, it was clear to me that we needed a specific class for condo owners. So now MAHA offers a landlord training class as well as a condo owner training class.
Q. How did your work at Boston Building Resource help with at MAHA?
A. My work with Urban Edge and BMRC (now Boston Building Resources) was very technical about building housing and helping homeowners repair and maintain their homes. I incorporated all that technical knowledge into a series of workshops that also include information about home-owners insurance and the financial and legal aspects of owning property.
Q. How have things changed over the 18 years you have been with MAHA?
A. One of the most important changes that was incorporated in the classes was education about energy conservation with the introduction of state programs that do free energy audits and give away energy efficient products like LED bulbs, programmable thermostats, power strips, shower heads and faucet aerators that save water, etc. Once you do the energy audit you can find out if your house can use solar panels, efficient mini-split heating & cooling systems and other ways of saving energy and therefore saving money.
Q. How does the Alliance help people to secure affordable and sustainable homeownership?
A. MAHA runs campaigns to “expand the pie” of housing resources to increase affordable homeownership opportunities in Boston and throughout the state. We have been leading efforts to increase Boston’s linkage fee, increase enforcement of the city’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program, and establish a transfer tax on real estate transactions over $2 million.
MAHA also enforces the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies to meet the credit needs of low-to-moderate income households. Our signature achievement is the creation and expansion of the ONE Mortgage program which has helped 22,000 first-time homebuyers, over half being households of color.
Q. What do you think has been achieved through MAHA’s workshops?
A. An awareness by people of the importance of the maintenance of the property as a way to save on major repair expenses in the future and at the same time enhance the value of the property.
Q. Are there tools in the pipeline that will help Bostonians buy their first homes?
A. Given the very high home prices in Dorchester and throughout the neighborhoods, MAHA and GBIO (Greater Boston Interfaith Organization) teamed up to ask the city of Boston to fund an enhanced mortgage program for first-time homebuyers. We have been using funds from the Community Preservation Act that passed in 2016, and starting soon, homebuyers will be able to access the ONE Plus Boston mortgage that features interest rates up to 1 percent below current rates and enhanced down payment assistance. We can’t wave a magic wand and lower prices, but this will make it a little easier to afford, and keep, a home in Boston for some buyers.
Q. What do you think you have accomplished with MAHA?
A. During my 18 years at MAHA, I coordinated 557 classes with a total of 10,791 graduates. I retire feeling very good about what I was able to accomplish at MAHA and, more importantly, very satisfied and proud that I was able to help so many people fulfill their homeownership dreams.