A goal I’d dreamt about for years was accomplished last year when I purchased my first home.
Home ownership for me wasn’t so much about settling down as it was about having a home base and attempting to build wealth. After a four year naval career, I left to attend college, just as the Great Recession began. Subprime mortgages, sky-high unemployment rates and foreclosures were wrapped up in every headline.
As the effects of the great American robbery subsided, I began to monitor the housing market and educate myself on why the housing crisis was allowed to happen. I became familiar with financing practices that led to the recession and how so many people, especially Black people, had everything they worked for stripped away. I read about Black folks’ history in real estate and the effects of redlining. I sought out contemporary stories from Black millennials on their journeys to becoming home owners. I wasn’t interested in pursuing home ownership based on the myth of the American dream. For too many, that dream turned into a nightmare they still can’t shake.
I’m still learning and unraveling the immense gravity of capitalism in this country, how it impacts Black people and how it impacts my personal beliefs and behaviors. As a millennial, my generation has been shoved between a concrete wall and a steel fence. Wages are stagnant; rents continue to rise, and companies continue to tout freelance positions, snacks and more casual dress codes as if those perks will make up for healthcare, retirement, and a salary commiserate to living a comfortable life that includes a vacation now and then.
I’ve come across several Twitter conversations about homeownership, and so many people have accepted the fact that they will likely never be homeowners. Black millennials are arriving late to the party and with only a fraction of the wealth their white counterparts have.
Accessibility through military service
The Linchpin of my ability to buy a home with no outside help is due to my military service. Rental prices all over the country are rising and renting in Austin meant that I was essentially paying a mortgage payment every month. While it was laughingly difficult to stick to financial planners’ advice of spending no more than 30 percent of my income on rent, I knew that the Post-9/11 GI Bill–a government assistance program–would be the thing to put me over the top in my quest to buy a home. However, that wasn’t always the case for Black military veterans.
After World War II, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, was created to “provide financial support in the form of cash stipends for schooling, low-interest mortgages, job skills training, low-interest loans, and unemployment benefits.” However, Black GIs returning home were still facing the oppressive nightmare of Jim Crow laws, segregation and the inability to secure home loans no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line they were on.
While the boot-straps narrative remains integral to the myth of America, white people disproportionately benefitted from GI Bill benefits, receiving preferential treatment from the programs that would also benefit from the government funds being funneled in by veterans. Ironically, descendants of those able to build wealth through the GI Bill have no problem wielding their imagined superiority by shunning people looking for similar assistance, through other modern-day government-funded programs.
Here come the fees
Seventy-four years after the GI Bill was signed into law, I would use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to purchase my home with zero down payment. I was concerned about all the other fees associated with the home buying process: earnest money, inspections, appraisal, closing costs, and more.
Closing costs were going to be a problem. Although the 2008 recession did not slow down the real estate market in Austin, I knew it would be important to come to the table with a good deal. Since asking a homeowner to cover my closing cost might be a deal breaker, I let my realtor and lender know that I was interested in applying for assistance to help with those costs.
At my lender’s direction, I signed up for the Neighborhood Lift Program, run through Business and Community Lenders of Texas. These kinds of programs are available all over the country. I registered for one of their eight-hour training sessions. For a $100-dollar fee, I got a crash course on the home buying process from start to finish. Considering I had already read Egypt Sherrod’s, Keep Calm… It’s Just Real Estate: Your No-Stress Guide to Buying A Home, I was already pretty familiar with what to expect. I flew through the training, went into their office for a final interview, signed some papers and received everything I needed to close on the house I’d already put an offer on.
Getting to the good part
After jumping through every hoop the lender, the appraiser and the previous owners threw at me, I sat in the softly lit and chicly decorated title company’s meeting room and signed my name on document after document. I felt giddy but exhausted thinking about the list of things to be executed in the coming weeks: more packing, movers, setting up new utility services, purchasing brand new appliances, getting the locks changed. It was an extensive list. The previous owners had to negotiate a lease back of the home because they had yet to secure their new home. I would need to wait 10 days before I would get the keys. As I signed my name on the final line, I felt good. A bit numb, but I was proud of myself. I’d just bought my first home on my own. No one could tell me where to park, how many pets I could have or charge me $400 in pet fees. I could create a home that reflected my personality. I could listen to Diana Ross’, It’s My House, as loud as I wanted and not have to think about someone above, below or beside me.
I’m still getting adjusted to homeownership. Finding good repair people and other professionals is sometimes a struggle. Learning to make simple repairs via YouTube and getting familiar with paint and their appropriate finishes now have a solidified place on my list of hobbies. There’s nothing like coming home to a place that feels a lot less temporary and a lot more like home. I hope all of us who want this experience will have the chance to do so.