An idea that’s been 15 years in the making
When Sami DiPasquale became the executive director of Ciudad Nueva 15 years ago, he was eager to explore community development initiatives focused on housing and asset development. At the time, however, Sami was the only staff person at Ciudad Nueva, and he was only working part time. “I knew we had to focus on what we had right then,” Sami says. “We only had Launch Pad, the after-school program for elementary kids. Our initial energies had to be on expanding to middle school as the kids grew, then to high school.”
Even more important, Sami knew that if Ciudad Nueva’s programs were going to be sustainable, they would need to be envisioned and supported by members of the community. “We want to make sure we are doing the right thing in terms of what the community wants and at a pace that the community is comfortable with,” Sami says. “The fact that we have done little directly related to housing or asset development over the past 15 years is at least somewhat due to the fact that this isn’t something we have heard from the community until recently.”
A shared vision for a flourishing community
Ciudad Nueva’s commitment to community leadership has paid off over the last 15 years. Community members are involved in all levels of the organization, with several currently on staff. Ciudad Nueva also has a community advisory committee comprised of 15-20 people from the neighborhood, many of whom are involved in the food co-op. “What’s brought everyone together is a vision for a flourishing community,” Sami says.
People are beginning to realize, however, that building and sustaining a flourishing community will be very difficult without higher rates of homeownership in the Rio Grande neighborhood. The rise of gentrification in the area, spurred on by the redevelopment of nearby downtown El Paso, has driven this point home in recent years as some longtime residents have been displaced by new homeowners coming in from other neighborhoods. “One of the aspects that makes homeownership attractive to the families of Ciudad Nueva is the stability of it,” Sami says. “You have a place to call home. You can say, ‘This is mine, and nobody is going to force me out of here.’”
Homeownership also helps contribute to a flourishing community by creating a path out of struggling financially month to month and into the middle class. The Rio Grande neighborhood has a low median household income of just $17,334 in 2016. El Paso’s median household income was well over twice that at $43,332, and in the United States it was more than three times as high at $57,617.
Currently, only a small handful of the hundreds of people who have been involved with Ciudad Nueva own their own homes. In 2016, 80.3% of residents in the Rio Grande neighborhood rented, compared to only 41% of El Paso residents and 37% of U.S. residents. “Many of those families are paying just as much, or more, each month in rent as they would for a mortgage,” Sami says. “And several have been renting their homes for so long that they could have purchased them in that time.”
Identifying the barriers to homeownership
What, then, has prevented these families from owning their own homes? According to Sami, there are several factors that conspire to make homeownership rates low in the Rio Grande neighborhood:
- Some individuals have just recently moved to the U.S. and don’t yet know the system.
- Many don’t have credit cards, meaning they don’t have strong enough credit to qualify for a traditional mortgage.
- Some don’t have bank accounts, making it difficult for them to establish a financial history and save for a down payment on a home.
- Many either speak English as a second language or don’t speak English at all, further complicating their ability to seek assistance.
Overcoming the barriers to homeownership
The good news is that there is support available, even for someone who might be experiencing one or more of the challenges listed above. Ciudad Nueva’s new housing initiative, Casas del Rio Grande, will help reduce these barriers to homeownership by connecting people from the neighborhood with the following resources:
- Classes on budgeting, financial management, mortgages, interest, insurance, taxes, and the basics of homeownership
- Partnerships with financial institutions that would help families build credit through rent payments and investing in individual development accounts (IDAs)
- If possible, matching IDA funds from financial institutions and state and federal agencies
Casas del Rio Grande initiative also includes an exciting, innovative component that will focus on families most in need of assistance. Ciudad Nueva plans to purchase rental property with at least two two- to three-bedroom units to rent to neighborhood families. Ciudad Nueva would make the units available to families who are stable and involved in the neighborhood but who would have a hard time accessing traditional loans. These families would also have access to the other resources listed above.
In order to successfully implement this initiative, Ciudad Nueva will need to raise $250,000. So far, individual donors have already contributed $50,000 toward the goal. “We would like the $250,000 in hand to purchase the rental property outright,” Sami says. “But the most important piece is to find the right property. We would like to move forward and keep an eye out for the right place and potentially take out a mortgage or have a like-minded partner who purchases the property and agrees to owner financing.”
A vision that continues to grow
The seed of a vision that took root 15 years ago continues to grow and inspire, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. “We envision that as families go through the program and buy homes, new families would come into the program,” Sami says. “We would love to be able to serve every family in this neighborhood that wants to buy a home.”
If you are interested in helping increase homeownership in the Rio Grande neighborhood, you can make a tax-deductible donation toward the effort or contact us to discuss other ways you can support Casas del Rio Grande, such as owner financing. Call us today at 915-521-2951 or contact us online.