Boston mortgage initiative helps public housing residents achieve homeownership

New homeowner Gisselle Jimenez (center) signs the closing documents for her new home in Hyde Park. Using the new One Plus Boston mortgage program for public housing residents and Section 8 voucher holders, she was able to leave her Codman Square apartment, trade in her voucher, and unlock the door to her own home. She is flanked by Maya Edwards, Needham Bank’s Wilfred Edwards, and her sons Elias and Isael. (Seth Daniel photo)

Mayor Michelle Wu was on hand at Thumbprint Realty in Codman Square to talk about the new One Plus Boston mortgage program

When Codman Square’s Gisselle Jimenez heard about the One Plus Boston mortgage, which helps public housing or Section 8 voucher holders achieve homeownership with up to $75,000 in assistance, she thought it sounded too good to be true.

But the path she embarked upon with the city and Boston Housing Authority’s (BHA) newest program has led her and her two boys, Isael and Elias, to a home of their own in Hyde Park – a home they closed on in a public ceremony Wednesday afternoon in the Codman Square offices of Thumbprint Realty.

Jimenez, who had a private apartment near Codman Square with a Section 8 voucher, traded in her voucher for the new mortgage program this month, after having started down that path earlier with the BHA’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) financial literacy program. That dual formula has equaled a generational change for her and her boys.

“You see how rent is in Boston, it is very expensive,” she said. “Sometimes you feel discouraged and feel you’ll stay in the same bracket all your life. This program gave me the opportunity not only for me, but also for my kids. This is for their generation and an open door…It’s so important people know they don’t have to make a certain amount to get to this place. This was my dream and I’m a single mother coming from a single mother.”

The ceremony was overseen by Alex and Joanna Edwards, who run Thumbprint Realty on Washington Street in Dorchester, and have been the top broker for the unique One Plus Boston program so far. Jimenez is the fourth person who has successfully used the program, and there are five other families from public housing in the pipeline.

Joanna Edwards said they are participating because homeownership in Boston is a passion for her and her husband.

“Often times we pass on our vouchers as opposed to passing on generational wealth and homeownership,” said Joanna. “Generational wealth is extremely important to my husband and I and we want to educate our community on what is attainable. Homeownership seems very far-fetched for a lot of people, especially the Black and Brown community here. It’s our goal, responsibility, and priority to let them know it isn’t.”

Mayor Michelle Wu, who took part in the real estate closing ceremony, said the program is an enhancement of the existing One Boston mortgage, but seeks out public housing development residents, or those who hold BHA Section 8 vouchers, and get them the resources to afford a home.

With BHA’s Megan Ryan at the helm, the program has grown legs over the past few months. Public housing residents can qualify for up to $75,000 in downpayment or closing cost assistance under One Plus Boston, which the Wu administration launched using federal COVID-19 recovery funds.

Tearing up, Wu told the audience the work they have been doing is just for this occasion. “We are a city that has a chance to show every city around the country what it means when people are empowered to live their fullest lives,” she said. “The starting point for that is having your dream home…and a place where the kids can play in the backyard and do homework at the table and dream about what is next in their lives.”

That subsidy can also be used to buy a lower interest rate, said Needham Bank’s Wilfred Edwards – who financed Jimenez’s new home in Hyde Park.

“In this high-interest rate environment where interest rates are almost 7 percent, folks like Gisselle have been able to use the rate reduction and buy that rate down,” he said. “She got a 5 percent rate in a…7 percent rate environment. That afforded her to be able to buy much more house than she typically could have. In fact, 7 percent without the downpayment assistance and mechanics of this program, she would not have been able to experience homeownership.”

Wilfred Edwards said many people in Boston are getting frustrated by high prices and high rents and leaving their long-time neighborhoods for surrounding cities and towns.

He said folks – especially those in public housing – should look closely at these programs before fleeing. He said with the One Plus Boston program, the Mass Dreams program, and Federal home loan banks, there is potentially more than $100,000 available for buyers like Jimenez.

“There is a lot of money out there,” he said.

BHA Administrator Kate Bennett said the program helps them two ways.

“Within BHA we have several hundred people that earn above 70 percent of AMI and just need this kind of support to make that leap to homeownership,” she said. “It makes total sense for us because not only are we helping that family with their own mobility, but also it frees up a rental unit for a family on our long, long waiting list.”

Jimenez said she prayed long and hard to get her new home, and even wrote a letter to the owners after her offer wasn’t accepted initially. When the other offer fell through, Jimenez’s plea must have hit home – as the sellers chose her next. With that process behind her and a new life ahead of her, the first order of business, she said, was to work in the backyard garden.

“I can’t wait to work in the garden,” she said. “I love plants and I love trees and the first thing I noticed at this home was the backyard.”

More information on the program is available here.

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