More counseling offered to help buy, keep homes

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Before becoming a grant manager and analyst for the state Housing Development Authority, Veronica Depotty counseled homebuyers herself. 

“I had a young couple who were in their 20s and had some very small children under the ages of 10,” Depotty said. “They were living in a single-wide mobile home where you could see sunlight through the walls and ceiling, and they were trying to stay warm in the Newaygo County winters.

“They said they wanted to buy a house. I had taken them under my wing. They weren’t quite mortgage-ready. They were more of a long-term client, but we kept working with them, working on their credit, working on their budget.

“And, we celebrated. They bought a beautiful three-bedroom home on three acres and were able to live like they wanted to,” she said.

Since 2017, Depotty has helped the housing authority manage grants and oversee 35 counseling agencies throughout the state.

Through the authority’s housing education program, those agencies give advice for pre-purchasing and renting homes, foreclosure, disaster relief and homelessness. They also educate people on their homebuying readiness and financial capabilities, like developing spending plans, improving credit and understanding consumer protection laws. 

“Sometimes education can be a misnomer because people worry that they aren’t smart enough, and that’s certainly not the case,” Depotty said. “It’s all about empowerment.” 

Each county, she said, has at least one local agency advising residents. 

Last year, the authority served over 7,000 people, according to Depotty. 

Officials announced this month that the authority will receive over $1 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 24 of its partner agencies. 

The authority can use the grant to assist about 3,500 more people this year, Depotty said. Among its 35 HUD-approved agencies, serving just under 10,000 people this year would be “an absolute conservative guess.” 

Southwest Solutions in Detroit is a HUD-approved partner of the authority. Helping people with the pre-purchasing process has been a common task, according to Alex Makohn, a manager for its homeownership assistance team. 

Once clients are ready, Makohn said they can connect with lenders through the agency. 

“We are able to make a warm handoff to people we’ve worked with for years, so our clients feel like they can trust that person they’re going to,” she said. 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Makohn said, an increasing number of clients wanting pre-purchasing services. She attributed the spike to the amount of free time people suddenly had. 

But as housing markets tightened, the need for pre-purchasing services slowed, according to Makohn, and a new demand emerged: foreclosure services. 

During the third quarter of 2021, Michigan foreclosure filings were up 65% from the year’s second quarter, and up 143% from the third quarter of 2020, according to data obtained by Michigan Radio.

Makohn said her team handles a lot of cases in Detroit that involve property tax foreclosure. 

Although the agency receives funding from both the housing authority and HUD, it’s not one of the 24 that will directly receive a share of the $1 million grant. 

All that matters, Makohn said, is that the money helps the community. 

“We all think of funding coming into communities,” she said. “Whether it’s at our organization or another organization, at the end of the day, we’re all providing services to the community. The more funds that come to Detroit, regardless of which organization that they go to, the work is still being done, and more residents are being supported.” 

Chief program officer Sue Ortiz of Habitat for Humanity, another partner with the housing authority, said the authority’s support will help it do more with foreclosures, evictions and home ownership. 

Habitat for Humanity is headquartered in Lansing. There are 49 affiliates, and those in Genesee, Oakland and Washtenaw counties are also HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, according to Ortiz. 

In addition to counseling, Habitat for Humanity repairs homes. 

The organization announced in January that Habitat for Humanity will receive a $2 million HUD grant to complete repairs for 160 low-income families, increasing the organization’s home repair program by 50% in the state. 

“People are so grateful to be in the home they wish to be in,” Ortiz said. “So many times, we hear from people that they never thought they could do it.” 

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