Recession or not, home ownership is still possible for some


Low-income housing has pretty much gone the way of the buffalo. Unless you’re on welfare in a Section 8 apartment, there’s virtually no such thing. Between the ravaged economy and the longstanding evil of predatory lending, low-income home ownership is scarcer still.


The market wasn’t doing great before this Great Recession hit, and now it’s truly taking a beating. Enter MCASA Homes, a partnership in St. Paul between Model Cities and ASANDC — Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation.

MCASA was established in 2004 to address homeownership disparities for households of color. During 2009 and 2010, the organization acquired and rehabbed vacant and foreclosed properties. It is now dealing with the housing dilemma by acting as basically a low-income house brokerage.

If you meet criteria for the MCASA Home program, they will try to put you in your own home. You must be a first-time home buyer; employed the last two years; not make more than $64,200; and, if you have any issues that have kept you from qualifying for a mortgage, you must be in the process of trying to resolve those issues.

Once you enter the program, you need to also complete home-ownership training classes in their “Home Stretch” component, enter a legal agreement to purchase a property from MCASA, and attend guidance counseling on how to map out a plan of action, put together a budget, and other information vital to knowing what you’re doing.

We were unable to obtain comments from staff at Model Cities and St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation prior to our press deadline. Homeowner Tawana Reliford, however, sitting in her breakfast nook, was delighted to speak at length about the difference MCASA made in her home hunting.

“They give you a lot of information,” she emphasizes. “The Home Stretch class is really important. You learn what to look for, what questions to ask. Before they put you in a situation, they’re going to educate you, make sure you [understand]. Walk you through it to become financially able to own your own home.

“It’s not a fly-by-night program,” Reliford says. “They’re clearly trying to help you and make sure you’re successful.”

On completing “Home Stretch,” Reliford was paired with a credit counselor in order to get her credit cleaned up. Once she obtained a credit score that made her eligible for home purchasing, the next agenda item was to set up a savings account. In short, it was very much a hands-on process by which MCASA thoroughly and painstakingly empowered Tawana Reliford to help herself.

“The people I worked with all throughout [the program], they all cared about my outcome. They didn’t just want to get me through this so they could get some funding. If they felt something wasn’t right or I wasn’t ready, they said, ‘No, we need to correct it.’

“So, when it came to my closing they’re moving, talking fast. But I understand everything that was going on, because going through the program the loan officer had prepped me with the right paperwork and so forth.”

For home shoppers, including those who don’t utilize MCASA, the educational piece goes a long way toward avoiding the errors of the past and getting you into a house you can keep. An informed consumer, able to read the proverbial fine print and sniff out when something doesn’t smell right, is a predatory lender’s worst enemy. And, of course, his or her own best friend.

Reliford acknowledges, “I would’ve been a candidate [for predatory lending], because when you’re looking for a house, you’re kind of going in blindsided. You don’t know the rules, what to expect.”

Reliford was in a sorry state of affairs before turning to MCASA. Her landlord had, it turns out, himself been victimized by ruthless loan practices. “He had a couple houses,” she recalls, “and got into all these loans. A balloon payment [came due]. He couldn’t refinance, because the houses weren’t worth what they were appraised at.”

The landlord was hit with foreclosure, which put Reliford on the sidewalk. With six children. “We were on our way to being homeless. We only had 30 days to be out of that house. With no money saved up.

“I could not find a place that would take me and all my kids in that short time. That was my challenge, to find someplace big enough that fast.” It went down to the wire. The very last day she had left in the apartment, the process she had initiated at MCASA came to fruition.

Reliford got the phone call and, owing to her circumstances, MCASA cut some red tape, pulled a few strings, and got her into her new home while she went through the qualifying workshops, seminars and classes. It worked fine. She moved in last May and this past June, closed on the house.

Ironically, Tawana Reliford works at a bank. She’s a private client banker at U.S. Bank who happens to be quite pleased that she now goes to the job from her own home and not from a shelter.

For more information on the MCASA Homes program, contact Nene Matey-keke at 651-332-8822.