I moved to Sacramento in 2011 because it was one of the most affordable big cities in California. The cost of living was fairly similar to Raleigh, NC at the time (where I lived before moving to California). In recent years Sacramento has faced one of the fastest climbing housing booms in the nation as a result of Bay Area residents moving in. Rent has climbed at astronomical rates, and so has the price of homes. Low-income and affordable housing has not been a priority to the city and region, and homelessness has grown as a result.
In 2013 I was diagnosed with the same disease that killed my father, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). My health deteriorated and I became disabled and impoverished as a result of not being able to work.
Ten days ago, on January 23rd, 2019, when I woke up I didn’t know I would be writing an offer on a house that night. I didn’t think it was even possible.
But when I saw a listing pop up in the MLS search that evening for a house I could afford, I told my real estate agent (who also has AS), “I want a house more than anything. I want to move on this.”
We wrote an offer that night. She sent it to the selling agent right after I signed it.
Even while she was working on the offer for/with me I knew it was not going anywhere. Someone from the Bay Area would just offer cash for the house. Someone would outbid me. The house must be condemned. There was no chance. The odds were like playing a game at the fair for a chance to win a cheap stuffed animal made in China.
The next day we learned that if we hadn’t sent the offer at 11 PM the same night we wrote it, the current owners were planning to sign another offer. My offer was better. “Motivated sellers,” the listing had said.
Almost exactly 24 hours after I made the offer, it came back to me with the signatures of the two people who accepted my offer. I was suddenly in the middle of buying a house I’d only seen pictures of.
This is the thread I wrote on Twitter after I found out the news:
My rent got raised yesterday. $75/mo. more (beginning in March) is a lot of money for me.
Trust me, you’ll want to keep reading.
[Image: a light-skinned person crying with their hand over their mouth. They’re looking into the camera] pic.twitter.com/HG9B6IOGlx
— BeingCharis (@BeingCharisBlog) January 26, 2019
It’s been a rough road to get here. I was denied help so many times. Countless people told me it wouldn’t be possible for me to qualify for a mortgage loan on disability income. I believed them; I’d done my research. But I knew my only option to remain housed long-term in Sacramento would be to buy a house (or condo, or trailer).
When my dad died in 2016, his meager inheritance helped me survive until my SSDI was awarded.
When I received my SSDI, I saved all the back-pay I was given in hopes that one day I could use it for a down-payment on some kind of home.
I knew I was chasing an impossible dream. But if you know me you know I only know how to chase those kinds of dreams.
I did my research. I found so many resources about buying homes as a poor person. I read everything I could find. I looked up programs, researched home prices, calculated all the expenses that go into buying and owning a home, talked casually with lenders, called low-income-specific organizations to seek more resources, and reviewed and reviewed and reviewed my finances and budget.
What I realized was that, without a doubt, I could be successful if someone would just believe in me. My credit was extremely high, I had a larger down-payment than many people my age and in my situation, and I had a plan to increase my income once in the home through hosting on AirBnB – something I’d done successfully in the past.
I knew that, on paper, I wouldn’t qualify on my own for a loan. I knew lenders would see my income and laugh. They wouldn’t see the frugality, the way I survived for nearly two years with no income at all, using savings I squeezed to the last drop. They wouldn’t see my scrappy ability to always come out ahead, somehow. They wouldn’t see how much I needed this, and what it meant to me.
And I knew that I couldn’t do anything about it, because the banks have to protect themselves. Banks are made to make money, not make it possible for poor people to achieve financial dreams. The recession changed a lot of things for poor people after predatory lending practices were regulated to prevent lenders from offering sub-prime loans to people who couldn’t afford them. I agree with the need for regulation, but in the same breath it’s made it harder for me to achieve financial and housing stability.
I didn’t give up. The frustration and anger paired with the fear of impending homelessness as rent climbed higher and higher motivated me to keep trying. I knew this was my only option to have housing stability and a future. My fixed income wouldn’t rise with the cost of rent, ever. My only option was to buy, to have a fixed payment each month for the life of the loan, and even room to save up for when the ceiling collapsed. Buying was cheaper than renting, for me.
I sought a co-signer to help me qualify for a mortgage loan. I never asked for money, just a signature by someone with more money, so I could achieve my dream with my own money and grit. I knew it was a huge ask. I asked the people you’d generally expect to help with such a thing. They said no. I was even told by a relative that I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I needed to look into more resources.
The pain of that statement still stings today. Poor, sick people live in a world that says with every breath that we aren’t trying hard enough. To be told that by someone who loves you is suffocating.
Others told me I was not smart for going for this.
They suggested all manner of their own solutions for me, as if I hadn’t already considered all my options:
“Get a roommate.”
(My mental health requires that I live alone)
“Apply for low-income apartments.”
(low-income housing vouchers waiting lists open about once a decade, and subsidized housing is a wait-list of 3-5 years with no guarantee)
“Move to another state.”
(leaving my current support system/community, established medical care, and public assistance options would be severely detrimental to my health & financial situation)
“Move back ‘home.'”
(I am home)
The stings of judgment and unsolicited advice from all directions hurt deeply. It was constant.
One of the hardest emotions I’ve ever felt was the belief in my capabilities to do this, but the knowledge that no one else would see it and believe in me, too. It was heart-wrenching to sit in that space, knowing I could do something with every fiber of my being, and knowing that no one else could see it the same way.
But I kept asking. I kept talking about it. I never let go of what I knew my future had to be in order to survive long-term.
And things began looking up.
A new friend said they wanted to explore what it would look like to co-sign on a mortgage so I could buy a home.
I sent them my budget, financial information, and plan I had worked so long and hard to solidify. I was transparent about everything – possibly over-transparent.
They could see how hard I had worked on this, and they believed my drive and my ability to buy a home.
They believed in me.
They believed in me!
I can’t even write this without crying.
To have someone validate my own belief in myself, what a home would mean for me, and my drive to accomplish it will never ever be forgotten. Even if the co-signing ended up not happening, just the fact that someone believed in me the same way I believed in myself was enough to shine some light into my soul. It felt parental – and so wonderful – to have this kind of support.
Unfortunately, the lender didn’t pre-approve me (us) for a loan. It was neither of our faults – we just didn’t fit the parameters that lender needed.
I thought it was game over. No house for me.
But I couldn’t let go of the dream.
I began thinking of how I could still buy a trailer, maybe the cheapest one ever, in bad condition, with the cash I was planning to use for the down-payment on a house. I began thinking of what it could look like to ask multiple friends for personal micro-loans with our own contract so I could buy a small condo.
Then, I was referred to another lender that works with low-income people specifically.
I never expected it, but I was pre-approved for a mortgage loan for a single family home. I was pre-approved on my income alone, without a co-signer! That alone gave me back some self-worth. A lender saw me as valid. Worth lending to.
But, the pre-approval amount was a joke – I knew I’d never find a house that price in Sacramento, and if I did someone else would snatch it up with a bid over the asking price.
Then, I did find a house. And I’m buying it. I’m about to be a homeowner (pending escrow).
I have never felt so optimistic about my future since my diagnosis until this moment, and all I can see is possibility in my soon-to-be house. I’m proud I did not give up, but I do not want my story to be used as an example of how every poor person could also achieve this dream “if only they just tried harder.” Poor people fight hard every day to survive. We fight hard, not because we want to, but because we have no other choice.
I can be applauded for my tenacity, but please don’t applaud me for winning in an unfair system; I would rather this be an opportunity to talk about how the structure of our society is built on the expectation that all people can and should work (capitalism), and the fact that everyone who is unable to work usually lives in poverty (could you survive on under $1,000/month?).
I would rather this begin a conversation about how to break down the barriers in place across the nation that prevent impoverished and/or disabled people from seeking housing permanence and stability.
For me, the American Dream is not about seeking riches and self-serving gratification. Only when barriers are broken can anyone who has a dream have the resources to achieve it. And right now, we are a nation mostly made of barriers and walls.
I’m going to own a home. But I will never forget the barriers that made it very nearly impossible. And I will pay it forward in every way I can to help break down those barriers for others coming after me.
I have been positively overwhelmed by the gestures and offers of support as I go through this process. My house will need a lot of renovating due to its age and disrepair, so the first couple years all my “extra” money will be going towards those extensive projects. I have created an Amazon wish list with all manner of things I will need, and even many items I don’t need, but that would make my future house feel like the home I envision. If you would like to send me a housewarming gift, here’s the list.