Is the American Dream of Homeownership Out of Reach?

Is the American Dream of Homeownership Out of Reach?

NPR’s SoundSide posed this question to a panel joined by HomeSight’s Executive Director Darryl Smith and all agreed change is long overdue. (… and HomeSight has innovative solutions to unveil in the coming year.)

Last week, HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith joined a panel with NPR’s SoundSide to discuss homeownership in Washington. Host Libby Denkman said the unfavorable climate for first-time homebuyers – created in part by 7.5% interest rates and housing home prices jumping 40 percent since the pandemic – left many feeling “shut out” of this traditional path to generational wealth stability.

A $750,000 median price for a starter home in King County puts homeownership out of reach for a lot of people, Smith said, adding that he bought his first Seattle home with his wife over 20 years ago for just $99,000.

Times are tough now for millennials who want to become homeowners, Denkman said, and Smith pointed out that for people of color, this situation is far from new: homeownership was deliberately placed out of reach through legal channels for hundreds of years.

“It’s easy to think this is a new problem and it used to be easier across the board for people to buy homes, but frankly, that isn’t true for everyone,” Smith said. “Redlining and other laws shut out people of color from the advantages of homeownership, explicitly excluding them from ways families build wealth, pay for college, start businesses or deal with a health catastrophe. In many areas, the government played a direct role in creating this ecosystem of housing disparity, and it’s led to a wealth gap that’s only getting wider.”

Because it is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with a mission to help low- and moderate-income families secure mortgages, HomeSight can offer programs such as down payment assistance or reduced down payment requirements. “Unlike commercial lenders, we’re governed by the Department of Financial Institution, but we have that mission, that drive, to navigate the challenges our clients face,” said Smith. “That’s what we do. It’s incredibly important work.”

But out-of-reach housing costs represent only part of the problem, and the panel also discussed the housing shortage.

“First-time homebuyers are seeing fewer and fewer choices in their price range,” Smith said. “There’s this critical gap between what someone can afford and what’s actually out there.”

Smith said that as a developer of affordable housing, HomeSight is bringing an innovative solution to this challenge. Next year, HomeSight hopes to break ground on a co-operative housing development, U-lex @ Othello Square for low- and middle-income families in south Seattle. Situated next to the light rail station at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Holly Park Drive, U-lex will offer 68 units affordable to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income at the time of purchase.

“If you look at housing as rungs on a ladder, and you see people that cannot reach that lowest rung, we’ve got to put rungs within reach,” said Smith. “For many low- and middle-income people in Washington, even a so-called ‘starter house’ is too big a leap to get into the real estate market. With a co-op like U-lex, people can start building equity at a much lower price point than you’d find in this housing market. U-lex is creating the first few rungs on the ladder, so people can start the climb to the true financial stability homeowning allows.” 

Smith said HomeSight has also joined more than 80 partners in the regional housing community to form the Black Home Initiative, which has a goal of creating 1,500 new black homeowners in the next five years. “This is a big problem, and we need everyone at the table to find solutions and create strategies to solve this. Housing isn’t just one issue, it’s several. We need to make changes in the way we do appraisals, zoning, land use, construction financing and lending.”  

BHI’s goal is to “make sure we can offer opportunity to as many families as possible, particularly to those who have been denied in the past,” said Smith. “This approach lifts everybody up, not just the people we help directly, but whole neighborhoods. Looking at this holistically is the key to creating a healthy ecosystem. We all do better when we all do better.”

HomeSight Leader Darryl Smith Appointed to Covenant Homeownership Program Oversight Committee

HomeSight Leader Darryl Smith Appointed to Covenant Homeownership Program Oversight Committee

HomeSight’s Executive Director Darryl Smith was selected this month by Governor Inslee to serve on the Covenant Homeownership Program (CHP) Oversight Committee.

HomeSight, a nonprofit catalyst for equitable homeownership and economic opportunity, worked to pass the legislation that created the CHP, a first-in-the-nation program that aims to repair the economic damage caused by generations of racially discriminatory housing policies.

Smith, working in partnership with the Black Home Initiative Network and the Housing Development Consortium, testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee in favor of the legislation that created the program.

“So many people and organizations, including HomeSight, worked so hard to bring the Covenant Homeownership Act to fruition,” said Smith. “I’m honored by this opportunity to help ensure the CHP makes a profound impact on black homeownership in Washington state.”

The CHP, administered through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, creates a special purpose credit program for down payment and closing cost assistance for demographic groups shown to have experienced economic damage from discriminatory housing practices.

In his appointed role, Smith will ensure the program works efficiently and effectively to create new black homeowners in Washington.

“The foundation for generational wealth building is rooted in home ownership,” said Smith. “In being denied that opportunity, generations of people of color have been largely shut out from the benefits afforded by owning a home such as starting a business, sending a kid to college, and even surviving a financial emergency due to a health challenge. The CHP is a critical first step toward acknowledging the harm caused by racist covenant laws and practices and working to reverse the impact of this history.”

How to build your credit

How to build your credit

Dear HomeSight:

I don’t have a credit score. How do I build enough credit so I can get a loan?

Having no credit score isn’t necessarily a bad thing—but it can prevent you from qualifying for certain loans. Your credit score is a number that reflects how well you manage your debt and pay your bills. The higher your score, the more likely you are to qualify for loans and credit cards with good terms and low interest rates.

Whether you’re young, new to the United States, don’t have recent credit activity, or have what’s called a “thin” credit file, there are ways to turn no credit into good credit. Here are suggestions from HomeSight’s HUD-certified homebuyer education specialists:

  • Get a secured credit card. This is a type of credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral. The deposit acts as your credit limit and protects the card issuer if you default on your payments. You can use a secured card like a regular card to make purchases and pay them off every month. This way, you demonstrate your ability to use credit responsibly and build your credit history. A secured card can also help lower your credit use ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit that you use. A lower ratio is better for your score and shows that you are not relying too much on debt. If you’re in college, you might also qualify for a college-student credit card, which helps young adults establish credit.

  • Become an authorized user. Another way to build credit is by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account, such as a family member or a friend. As an authorized user, you can use the card to make purchases, but you are not legally responsible for paying the bill. The primary account holder’s payment history, credit limit and balance will be reported to the credit bureaus under your name as well. This can help you boost your score and lengthen your credit history, as long as the account is in good standing.

  • Apply for a credit builder loan. Unlike a regular loan, you don’t get the money upfront with a credit builder loan. Instead, the lender deposits the loan amount into a savings account that you can access only after you pay off the loan in full. The lender reports your payments to the credit bureaus, which helps you establish a positive payment history. A credit-builder loan can also diversify your credit mix, which is the variety of credit accounts you have. Having different types of credit can improve your score and show you can handle different kinds of debt.

  • Get a co-signer. If you have a family member with established credit, they can co-sign a loan for you. This is risky for the co-signer, because he or she is fully responsible for paying off the loan. Failure to pay on your part could hurt the co-signer’s credit—and jeopardize your relationship.
  • Contact HomeSight to speak with one of our HUD-certified counselors. This is a free service we provide as a nonprofit lender and CDFI, and we are committed to helping every member of our community prosper. HomeSight is here to help you assess your financial present and navigate a plan for a secure future for you and your family. A credit counselor can help you go over your credit options and can help you create a personalized plan to help you take the lead in your financial life. Another bonus: speaking with a counselor and completing our free homebuyer education classes qualifies you to apply for HomeSight’s non-traditional credit offerings and down payment assistance programs. We specialize in helping borrowers with limited credit find the loans they need to achieve their financial goals. Education is power. Contact one of our helpful staff members today!

Two Windermere agents walked into HomeSight

Two Windermere agents walked into HomeSight...

Volunteers + HomeSight = Impact

In summer 2020, as the nation reeled from the double blow of the pandemic and the civic unrest following the murder of George Floyd and others, two real estate agents at Windermere reached out to HomeSight. These agents didn’t know one another, but they were thinking the same thoughts at the same time.

These agents had seen the toll racial inequality had taken in their field and wanted to make a difference for the Black community, whose ability to build wealth through homeownership was hampered by the generation-spanning legacy of slavery. Despite COVID’s impact on their own finances, they both reached out individually to HomeSight to ask how they could help Black families with their down payments.

HomeSight was the right door to knock. Loan originators at HomeSight were witnessing the growth of a new type of housing crisis. Despite being eligible and able to afford a mortgage, moderate-income families who earned too much to qualify for assistance were increasingly unable to reach the down payment.

HomeSight lenders wanted to increase down-payment assistance to these families. A relatively small investment upfront could completely change the trajectory of a family, and a community, for generations to come.

As a real estate agent, Paige Dumler had a front-row seat to the soaring cost of starter homes in Washington. She saw as prices soared increasingly out of reach for first-time homebuyers, especially for people of color. She’d seen racial disparity and inequity growing worse. And in the summer of 2020, just steps from her Capitol Hill home, she saw equity and racial injustice explode into the city’s, and the country’s, consciousness.

Dumler knew equity was a huge, complex, societal issue. She knew that, as one person, she couldn’t solve it, but she was, as she described herself: “the kind of person who asks: ‘What can I do to help?’” So she called HomeSight and asked if she could provide down payment assistance for a family of color, to help them reach homeownership.

Meanwhile, another Windermere agent, April Geneva, had started to develop and voice the same concerns. One of Geneva’s clients was selling her inherited house in the Central District – the client’s mother had purchased it in 1989 for $65,000 – and told Geneva: “My mom made an amazing investment, and I recognize that I am now benefiting from generational wealth. I’m sad, leaving the neighborhood, and knowing that not a lot of black folks in Seattle can afford to live here anymore.” The client asked Geneva point blank: “What are you, as realtors, doing about who has access to housing?” Geneva relayed the conversation to a colleague, and said she wanted more black families to experience the benefits of generational wealth.

After meeting with the agents, HomeSight reached out to other housing leaders to explore the creation of a tailored, down-payment assistance program for moderate-income borrowers. The Windermere agents approached Windermere’s president, OB Jacobi, who committed Windermere’s full support, acknowledging the industry’s history of discriminatory practices and its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

By mid-2021, the fund was created with a $40,000 contribution from Windermere and HomeSight’s match. Approved by Sam Smith’s family, the fund’s name pays tribute to a Seattle political icon who was key in enacting the Open Housing Law of 1967. The fund provides up to $20,000 in down-payment assistance to Black families earning between 80% and 120% of Washington’s median income.

Like many agents of change, the Sam Smith “Hi Neighbor” Homeownership Fund was the result of people working together to find solutions, and inspiring others to join.

The program has inspired more partnerships. At each closing, Windermere agents are asked to donate a portion of their commissions to the fund. These donations are then matched by the company’s non-profit arm, the Windermere Foundation. Seeing the success of the program, JP Morgan Chase, Zillow, and US Bank pledged their commitment to the cause. To date, the Sam Smith Fund has helped a dozen families reach homeownership.

“We’ve got to be willing to find different ways,” said Geneva. “This market is really, really difficult. We live in a city where housing is insanely expensive. I’m proud of the fact that the work has begun.”

What’s a Moon Fest?

Family, Prosperity and Dancing in the Moonlight: at its first Moon Fest, HomeSight lights up Othello Park with southeast Asian cultural traditions.

While the lunar new year is a familiar celebration in cities with large east Asian communities such as Seattle, fewer people are familiar with the culturally significant autumn festival traditions celebrated in China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and other east Asian cultures.

“The Moon Fest marks the end of the harvest season,” said event organizer Spring Gin, HomeSight’s community development manager. “It’s a day to celebrate family, and especially children, at the end of the agricultural work year. It’s a time for family reunions. The full moon represents fullness, prosperity, peace and a plentiful harvest.”

Fireworks, lion dancing, food, music, fun and lanterns will light up Othello Park on Saturday, September 30 from 6-10 p.m. at HomeSight’s first-ever Moon Fest. Free and open to the community, the festival will bring the traditions of southeast Asian harvest celebrations to its southeast Seattle neighbors.

The festival will also feature martial arts demonstrations and a fashion show of traditional dress from several southeast Asian cultures. A special moon dance will be performed by senior members of the community, and fireworks will top off the celebration.

With the festival’s special focus on children and families, young attendees will be given treats and lanterns. “In Vietnamese culture, the lanterns light the path for prosperity and good fortune,” said Gin.

Moon Fest is sponsored by HomeSight, a catalyst for community and economic development in southeast Seattle for over 30 years, and Seattle’s Office of Economic Development.

“There’s a lot more to Asian culture than dim sum and pho,” said Gin. “Moon Fest is an opportunity for our large east Asian community to reconnect with their cultural traditions, and for all our community members and neighbors to learn, join in and celebrate with us.”


What: Moon Fest, sponsored by HomeSight and Seattle’s Office of Economic Development

Where: Othello Park, 4351 S Othello St, Seattle, WA

When: Saturday, September 30, 2023 6-10 p.m.

Who: Everyone!

Cost: Free

Find more information here.

Sign up to volunteer here.

Don’t Let Them Take Our Neighborhoods

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge:
“Don’t Let Them Take Our Neighborhoods”

Attendees L to R: Back row: Jasmyn Jefferson, Deacon Tyson, Brooks Glenn, Donald King, Nicole Bascomb-Green, Tina LaBouve, Councilmember Kiara Daniels, Bishop Tyson. Front row: Patience Malaba, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith, Michael Brown, Margaret Salazar, Gary Gant

Key member of the Biden-Harris administration met HomeSight stakeholders and Black Homeownership Initiative Network members this week to give support to Black homeownership efforts.

HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith moderated a roundtable discussion with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Representative Adam Smith and members of the Black Home Initiative Network (BHIN) to discuss hurdles to homeownership in the Black community.

Several representatives from the BHIN—a coalition of 72 housing leaders dedicated to improving homeownership access in the Black community—attended the event, including Darryl Smith and Nicole Bascomb-Green, a HomeSight board member and the new chair of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

Secretary Fudge acknowledged the racial gap in homeownership is a pressing and longstanding issue. “It’s been 55 years since the Fair Housing Act was passed,” she said. “We know we have to do better.”

Noting the Biden-Harris administration had increased tax credits available for housing construction, Secretary Fudge said the problem only began with the affordable housing shortage. “We know we need to build houses. We are woefully short. But we can’t just build our way out of the problem,” she said. “We have to preserve the housing we have, and we have to preserve our communities.”

 To do that, Mayor Harrell said more robust assistance was needed for down payments in this region that generally ranged from $100k-$150k. “We live in a very wealthy city,” Mayor Harrell said. “This creates a sub-class. You don’t become worth more than $180 billion and don’t recognize the wake you just left.” Mayor Harrell praised HomeSight for its “amazing” work directly tackling the challenges posed by increasingly unreachable starter home prices, saying: “That’s the kind of work we have to do.”

Darryl Smith said HomeSight’s programs addressed a critical gap in Seattle’s housing market. “The reality is that down payment assistance for low-income people is capped at 80 percent of the area median income. House prices have risen so far, and so rapidly, that even people making up to 120 percent of the area median income can’t bridge the gap, and don’t qualify for any assistance.”

At the roundtable, local teacher James Dixon shared his experience purchasing a home with the assistance of HomeSight’s Sam Smith “Hi Neighbor” Homeownership Fund, a loan product created in partnership with Windermere Real Estate designed to increase purchasing power of Black homebuyers earning between 80-120 percent of Washington state’s median income. After years of struggling with rising rent in Seattle, his hometown, Dixon was able to bridge the affordability gap to purchase his home last year with this program.

Bascomb-Green said: “That’s what we see every day as brokers. We have clients who are income rich, but asset poor. They can afford a mortgage, but don’t have the down payment, because they make too much money.”

Darryl Smith said the work must continue on every front. “When we talk about the issues surrounding creating generational wealth, the answer is ‘yes, and …’ It’s supply. It’s homebuyer education. It’s down payment assistance. It’s all of these.”

Secretary Fudge’s message was clear in response: “We want to work with you.”

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and HomeSight Executive Director Darryl Smith

Are you ready to buy a home?

Quiz: Are you ready to buy a home?

The benefits of homeownership are great, but getting there takes preparation. There are many factors to consider before you buy a home, such as your income, savings, credit score, debt, budget, lifestyle, and goals. How do you know if you’re ready to take this step? Take our quiz!

  • Do you have a stable and reliable source of income? (2 points)
  • Have you been saving money for a down payment and closing costs? (2 points)
  • Do you have a good credit history and score? (1 point)
  • Do you have a realistic budget that includes all the costs of homeownership, such as mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and utilities? (1 point)
  • Do you plan to stay in the same area for at least five years? (2 points)
  • Do you have an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of living expenses in case of unexpected events? (1 point)
  • Do you have a clear idea of what kind of home you want and need? (2 points)
  • Are you willing to compromise on some features or amenities if necessary? (2 points)
  • Are you prepared to deal with the responsibilities and challenges of homeownership, such as repairs and maintenance? (2 points)

Add up your score:

You’ve prepared financially and done your homework. You’re ready to learn about your mortgage options. Call HomeSight today and learn about all the opportunities we can offer to start building equity in your new home!

You may be perusing homebuying websites, but you haven’t evaluated your own financial toolkit. Even if you’re just surfing on Zillow or Redfin, it’s never too early to lay the groundwork so when the time comes, you’re financially prepared. The good news is you’re not alone. HomeSight’s homebuying classes can help you budget, plan and get you financially ready to take this first step toward building equity.

You’ve got to start somewhere! You may think homeownership is out of reach for you, but HomeSight’s lending experts can show you how to prepare. If you’re at the beginning of your homebuying journey, we’re happy to help you create a realistic budget and timeline. Try our Homebuyer Education class to get your budget in shape.

We love showing our clients what’s possible for them in the Washington housing market.

Your Credit Score

HomeSight Mythbusts: Your Credit Score

Your credit score is the number that reflects how well you manage debt. If you’re getting ready to borrow money to buy a new home, a good credit score will open options for you. In general, the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to get approved for loans with lower interest rates and better terms.

Because HomeSight’s mission is to help low- and moderate-income families buy their primary residences, we’re able to offer mortgages at competitive rates that don’t rely on your credit score or the loan amount. 

But good credit is a valuable tool in any homebuyer’s toolkit. You can build your credit if you don’t have any, or if you’ve made past mistakes, but there is conflicting advice on how to do that. Below, HomeSight separates myth from fact.

MYTH or FACT? You should check your credit reports often.

(MOSTLY) MYTH: This is only partially true. Multiple inquiries into your credit report can lower your score a few points. However, you should check your credit once a year. You can get a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion— through this website. Review your reports for any errors or inaccuracies and dispute them if you find any. You can also sign up for alerts and notifications that inform you of any changes or suspicious activity on your credit report.

MYTH or FACT? Your payment history is the most important factor in your credit report.

FACT: Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, making it the largest factor in your credit score. Make sure you pay at least the minimum amount due on all your bills every month, preferably more if you can afford it. Pay your bills on time! Set up automatic payments or reminders to prevent missing deadlines.

MYTH or FACT? You need to apply for several credit cards to establish credit.

MYTH: Apply for new credit sparingly. Every time you apply for a new loan or credit card, the lender will perform a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can lower your score by a few points. Too many hard inquiries in a short period of time can signal that you are desperate for credit and pose a higher risk to lenders. Only apply for new credit when you really need it, and ask yourself twice: do I really need a credit card from Sunglass Hut?

MYTH or FACT? High credit use leads to a high credit score.

MYTH: Your credit use is the percentage of your available credit that you are using. For example, if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit and a $500 balance, your credit use is 50 percent. Ideally, you want to keep your credit use below 30 percent, as this shows lenders that you are not overextended and can handle your debt responsibly.

MYTH or FACT? You need to diversify your credit mix to improve your credit score.

FACT: Your credit mix is the variety of credit accounts that you have, such as revolving (credit cards) and installment (loans). Having a diverse credit mix can boost your score, as it demonstrates you can handle different types of debt. However, this factor only accounts for 10% of your score, so don’t open new accounts just for the sake of diversifying your credit mix.

Building your credit takes time and patience, but the effort is worthwhile.

HomeSight can help you create a budget and learn how to manage your finances to ensure your credit is in the best shape possible when you’re ready to put that credit score to use.
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