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Home of Your Own program based at USM has helped 677 families become homeowners




Kelly Champagne and her son, Micah, moved five times in the past two years trying to find rent they could afford. After participating in the Home of Your Own (HOYO) program housed at the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Champagne was able to purchase her own home with a monthly mortgage $300 less per month than she was previously paying in rent.

“My son said, ‘I can’t believe we don’t have to move any more’,” Champagne said. “We moved in at the end of September, and just finished painting this past weekend. He got to pick out his colors. I didn’t have to ask permission for what colors to use. It is very exciting to have the freedom to do what you want to do and make it your own. I feel like I’m in the country, but I’m not. It is just beautiful, a three-bedroom, 1,400-square foot house.”

Not only is she now investing in a home instead of throwing away money on rent, saving $300 a month is very beneficial for their budget.

Champagne started a new job in September working as an administrative assistant in admissions at William Carey College. So she also has a full-time job and benefits that she hasn’t had in several years, either.

She was able to host her family from Florida for Thanksgiving.

“They were so proud,” Champagne said.

Champagne said she didn’t think she would be able to own a home because she didn’t have thousands for a down payment. But she was able to receive down payment assistance from through HOYO.

In the past 20 years, HOYO has helped about 677 families in 65 Mississippi counties become homeowners. Heather Steele, associate coordinator for housing at the Institute for Disability Studies, said HOYO empowers people with and without disabilities to reach their individual dreams of owning and maintaining their own homes.

HOYO sponsors free, one-day homeowner education workshops such as the one planned from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at 411 Classic Drive, Hattiesburg, for any residents in Forrest and surrounding counties. The workshop is co-sponsored by The First, a National Banking Association.

“We are proud of the services provided across the state,” Steele said. “We couldn’t do it without the relationships with other community leaders, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Mississippi Home Corp., USDA Rural Development, Regional Housing Authorities statewide and lenders across the state. We all work together for it to be successful to bring information to consumers in our state so they can have the opportunity to own their own home, if that is what they want to do.”

The program is for low- to moderate-income families, Mississippi residents with incomes less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. Steele said the program is especially important because Mississippi is on the bottom of most lists when it comes to economic indicators.

“We know that poverty is a state of mind,” Steele said. “People have low confidence and self-esteem. We want to provide them with opportunity and hope. You have to develop a habit and put it into practice in order to change your mindset.”

Steele said they don’t make the decisions for the clients, but instead provide information such as how to budget finances. What are they paying out now in expenses and what do they plan in near future?

Sometimes expectations are unrealistic such as when someone plans to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

In the class they look at case studies, do role playing, play games, use a worksheet to tackle making a budget and get information about calculating affordability. Some people might fall in love with a $150,000 home. But when they go through their budget, it becomes clear that is not affordable.

“You want to paint a realistic picture so they can make a well-informed decision,” Steele said.

HOYO is a non-profit that is a HUD-approved counseling agency. The education is free to all consumers. The down payment and individual assistance is specifically for households that include someone with a disability.

“Home buyer education is really important at this time because more lenders are requiring consumers get educated on the process,” Steele said. “It is a tedious process applying for a loan and a lot of times people don’t know the terminology. It is over their heads. Our goal is to simplify the process so potential home buyers get a better understanding of what to expect. We do realize attending a class one time is not going to solve everything. But it will help give them an idea and help them make well-informed decisions.”

The program doesn’t steer people to certain banks. What it does is provide information about different loan and grant products that may be available in their community so people can compare and contrast offerings to see what may best suit their needs.

Home ownership isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t want the responsibilities of repairs and maintaining a yard. But Steele said some people crave home ownership as a way to build wealth and have a sense of stability and community.

“They do well buying their own home because they don’t like to be crowded into an apartment building, and have nothing show for their money,” she said.

Steele said the key thing that they focus on is managing money.

“When you write things down, it helps you get a handle on where your money is going,” Steele said. “It allows you to save and manage your money. You can save money by understanding credit. For example, some credit cards charge interest rates of 17 to 24 percent. That ends up costing a lot of money.”

For more information or to pre-register for the free homebuyer education seminar, call Steele at 601.266.4097.

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