When Samantha Stokes’ daughter walked into their new East Garfield Park home for the first time, the teen took off her shoes and ran around the house.
“So first thing, she goes to see the huge backyard that we have, and the garage and things like that because she’s never had that before,” Stokes recalled. “It was just excitement on her face, and even to this day it’s still hard to believe I’m an actual homeowner.”
About four weeks ago, Stokes, 38, closed on her first home for herself and her 14-year-old daughter. She started exploring buying a home earlier this year after she learned her housing choice voucher through the Chicago Housing Authority would likely phase out because a recent job promotion increased her income.
Stokes was in the process of securing a home through the agency’s Choose to Own program when the agency told her about the new Down Payment Assistance Program they were launching that would provide a grant of up to $20,000 for a down payment and closing costs. Stokes said it felt like a perfect storm — in a good way.
“I was so close toward the closing date of my home, it ended up working out perfectly for me,” she said.
Stokes is the agency’s first participant to close on a home as part of the new down payment assistance program. The $20,000 will be forgivable after 10 years.
There are already more than a dozen other participants behind Stokes who have been deemed eligible for the grant and are in the process of purchasing a home, said Jimmy Stewart, the manager of home ownership for CHA.
The agency projects it will be able to help about 100 participants in the program’s first year, Stewart said. The program is funded through federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While Stokes had a housing voucher through the housing authority, Stewart said the program is open to anyone — including those living outside of Chicago — as long as the home purchased is within the city’s boundaries.
However, the program does include other eligibility requirements, such as being a first-time homebuyer who will use the property as their primary residence, he said. In addition, recipients’ income should not exceed 80% of the area median income.
That means a single adult’s income should be at or less than $61,800, and a family of three must have a household of income of or less than $79,450. Participants should also have at least $3,000 in savings.
The housing authority would like the program to assist voucher holders who are nearing 80% of the area median income, meaning they are receiving less assistance but may be wary of seeking homeownership, Stewart said. CHA residents who make just over the 80% threshold because of changes to their income should still apply, especially because they are likely on the brink of losing a voucher or housing assistance.
The program comes as mortgage rates continue to increase across the country. The rate for a 30-year home loan rose to 7.57% earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.
“Considering the climate that we are in when it comes to mortgages right now and people going out to homeownership,” Stewart said, “we believe that this puts them in a competitive advantage and allows them to be able to purchase the home and also have an affordable monthly mortgage amount that is truly achievable without CHA assistance after that.”
Stokes received $20,000 from the new housing authority program, in addition to another $10,000 from another assistance program. She also used $5,000 from her own savings to purchase the West Side, contemporary single-family home, which meant in total she had just over 15% of the total cost of the home.
She previously lived in a small two-bedroom apartment, but the new home offers more space for herself and her daughter. Stokes said she is settling into her home that includes a bigger kitchen where she already envisions children running around during future family get-togethers. An in-unit washer and dryer means she no longer has to make trips to the laundromat.
Her brothers and father have offered to make any needed repairs, though the property is a new construction. Her mother, who lives nearby, has become a frequent visitor.
“They all want to pick out the extra bedroom and say that’s their room when they come over,” she said.