|Community Valley Bank
||Imperial Valley Housing Authority||$15,000 IDEA Grant|
Adrianna and Ricardo Peraza are a couple who have never not worked hard: they met working in the fields – back-breaking labor in the hot Yuma, Arizona, sun, not far from the Mexican border. Twelve years later, Ricardo is a licensed commercial truck driver and Adrianna is about to receive an Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Imperial Valley College. Four months ago, they bought a three-bedroom home in a quiet and diverse Imperial Valley neighborhood, where they are raising two soccer- and math-mad sons, 10 year-old Jesus and 8 year-old Joaquin.
Ricardo was still working as a farm laborer when the family moved into a two-bedroom public housing apartment in Brawley, California, where their younger son was born. The couple learned about the Imperial Valley Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program and the pathway it could provide to homeownership from Monica Leon, Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinator, who shepherded the family through the 5-year program. “They are a very driven family,” Monica says. “This program was the best thing in the world for them to do.”
Just like the name says, FSS programs are designed to help families become truly self-sufficient – economically independent and free of the need for public assistance – through job-training, education, and escrow accounts that offer participants an incentive to increase work effort and earnings and an unparalleled opportunity to build assets.
Families receiving housing assistance typically pay 30% of their adjusted income for rent and utilities. As the incomes of FSS participants rise, their rents increase. An escrow credit, based on the increases in earned income, is deposited each month into interest-bearing accounts managed by the housing authority. Families that successfully complete the FSS program receive their accrued FSS escrow funds, plus interest, with no formal restrictions as to how they must use the money. Many families use the funds to purchase a home, reduce debt, pay for a postsecondary education, or start a new business.
The Peraza’s dreamed of one day owning their own home, so they jumped at the chance to enroll in an FSS program that would help them achieve their dream, even as they worked toward their individual career goals. While Ricardo started to earn more income as a truck driver, Adrianna received an ESL certificate, began to study for a career as a teacher, and became a U.S. citizen. And as their babies were growing, so did the family’s FSS escrow account, ultimately reaching $10,000. “I am so proud of this family,” Monica says, “because they have so many accomplishments.”
The Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s Individual Development and Empowerment Account (IDEA) first-time homebuyer program is designed to offer an additional boost to families participating in FSS and other asset-building programs by providing 3-to-1 matching grants that can be used toward a downpayment or closing costs. “It’s incredible to me – it’s free money!” says Gregorio Velasquez, Vice President at Community Valley Bank, the FHLBank San Francisco member that passed the IDEA grant through to the Peraza family. “Promoting homeownership is something I personally and professionally believe in,” Velasquez says. “We participate because of the positive impact we are going to have on the community, and it is so valuable to assist a family like this to achieve the American Dream.”
According to Adrianna, the homebuying process took so long – with always yet another piece that needed to be put in place – that they didn’t think it was actually going to happen. “Papers, and papers, and papers, and more papers,” she laughs. The house they were buying was the first house they looked at, but with many layers of financing, including USDA Rural Development 1st Mortgage and Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, along with a $15,000 grant from FHLBank San Francisco, the purchase took a year to complete. Now four months after they moved in, there is no doubt that sticking with the process was worth it. “People don’t believe it when I tell them. It is difficult, yes, but it is for real. ¡Sí, se puede!”
Studies show that a safe, decent home benefits adults and children in many important ways, and Ricardo already sees the boys doing better in school since they moved into their own house. “It is good to be in a more tranquil neighborhood,” he says. “And having a home is a different feeling from renting: more secure, more stable.” Fourth-grader Jesus thinks the house is better than an apartment because you can have your own room, with a desk for doing homework in privacy. Also, you can put the car in the garage, a tiny dog named Mimi can have her own little house in the backyard, and the front lawn is made for kicking a soccer ball around with your favorite brother.
“It’s not just a house,” says Ricardo. “It is like savings, something we are building equity in, that we can pass on to our children.” More importantly, and more immediately, Adrianna and Ricardo want to set an example for Jesus and Joaquin. Adrianna explains what they both believe: “If the boys see us, with the limitations we had, that we are able to achieve this, then they must think ‘what can I do with the opportunities I have?’ If I work hard, study hard, get a career, then not only will I be able to get a house, I might be able to have a better house, a bigger house.’ It can be done.”