Robert Jackson expected good things from NeighborWorks Waco.
Jackson was the treasurer of the newly formed Brooks Avenue Neighborhood Association in 1993, when the group decided to contribute $10,000 to help jump start the new housing organization, believing it could help more residents buy homes in the Greater Waco area.
But he didn’t expect that he would wind up being one of those residents who would need the nonprofit group’s help to buy his first home.
“I was still young and single, and it was time for me to look for my own house, and I had saved up some money, but I needed some help with the down payment and closing costs,” said Jackson, 52, of his decision to purchase a three-bedroom home on the 2000 block of North Seventh Street in North Waco in 1997.
NeighborWorks provided about $5,000 in closing and inspection costs for the house and financed his mortgage.
Jackson and his wife, Joanna, paid off the mortgage in October 2012, just a week before he was laid off from the job he had held at Mrs. Baird’s for 34 years.
Jackson is among the numerous success stories for NeighborWorks, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
In the past two decades, NeighborWorks has helped more than 2,500 families transition into homeownership by providing mortgage financing or pre-homeownership assistance.
Officially incorporated in August 1993 as Neighborhood Housing Services of Waco, the group was a brainchild of community leaders, bankers and city officials working to help residents obtain financing to purchase homes.
Since then, the group also has built and sold 155 homes to low- and moderate- income families in Waco and surrounding cities like Bellmead, China Spring, Lacy Lakeview and Hewitt.
Ralph Thompson bought a NeighborWorks home on the 2400 block of Lasker Avenue in 1999, one of the first houses the agency built.
He had lived in the same Lake Shore Drive apartment complex for 10 years, but finally decided to look into buying a home after being fed up with annual rent hikes.
“Some people are scared to buy a home because they’re not ready to get that debt, and it is a big debt,” said Thompson, a 57-year-old Army veteran who works at the Waco Veterans Affairs Hospital. “But you can pay it off. You can’t pay off that rent.”
He turned to NeighborWorks after stumbling upon a house the group was remodeling at the time on Earle Avenue in East Waco, and because he “didn’t know anything at all about buying a house” but figured the organization would be helpful in guiding him through the process.
The agency has provided financial education classes to around 2,800 residents since it started.
“I think the housing market has had its definite ups and downs, so that’s something that’s changed in the last 20 years,” said DeLisa Burnell-Smith, vice president and chief operating officer for NeighborWorks Waco. “But as far as the organization, I think we have grown a lot. We have built capacity, we’ve added programs and services, and we’ve adjusted to the changes in a positive way.”
That has included adjusting to the still-recovering housing market following the 2008 mortgage crisis.
NeighborWorks would build up to 23 homes a year during its peak construction boom in the mid-2000s.
But after the housing bubble burst, widespread national mortgage defaults and foreclosures forced lenders to stiffen requirements for home loans, shrinking NeighborWorks’ pool of prospective homebuyers.
“We’ve built some homes and sometimes they would stay on the market for over a year,” CEO Roy Nash said. “When that happens, you almost have to quit building because you depend on the sales to bring money back in and to help fund the next build.”
Nash said the organization only built and sold two homes in 2012, when home sales dipped again nationally.
But it already has sold seven homes this year.
Nash thinks it will take another five years to build back up to the peak home-building rates.
Looking for a new path to sustain its work and continue the goal of putting families in homes, Neighbor- Works in 2008 started purchasing and renovating homes to lease to residents, taking advantage of lower home prices and the availability of budget-friendly foreclosed properties.
It now has 79 rental properties throughout Waco and surrounding McLennan County cities, all but three of which are currently occupied.
Nash said the organization looks to encourage responsible tenants to either purchase their rental home or begin the process of buying another house.
Despite the organization’s strides in the past 20 years, Waco’s homeownership rate is around 43 percent, compared to 67 percent nationally.
“It’s mostly a mindset issue (holding people back from buying a home),” Nash said. “To buy a home through our program, they can purchase the home for as little as $500 down, and in fact most of them have already put more than that up for their deposit.”
Before purchasing a NeighborWorks house on the 2000 block of Lyle Avenue in 1999, Patsy Young was renting a duplex and had been a renter all of her life, just as her parents rented her childhood home.
Young, 60, said she and her ex-husband sought a home loan when they first married but were told they did not qualify because of credit scores and their combined debt.
Her chances improved as a single woman earning steady income from the Owens-Illinois glass plant, but she still needed some encouragement to take the plunge into homeownership.
“I actually found this house by accident, because my cousin was trying to buy a house and she was looking at this one but decided she didn’t want it because there isn’t an attached garage, so my daughter had me come look at it and I decided to get it,” Young said. “My daughter works in real estate, and she has always been an advocate of buying a home.”
But Young thinks becoming a homeowner is not for everyone. Older residents may not be able to handle the upkeep of a house on their own, she said.
Burnell-Smith said many clients may convince themselves that they cannot afford a home or that they lack sufficient credit to land a lender.
But NeighborWorks staff members work to help residents create customized plans outlining steps they can take to improve their chances or direct them to programs to begin moving forward with buying a home.
“I think people oftentimes, when they go to our agency, they’re looking for an opportunity to pursue homeownership, but what they walk away with is knowing that they can do it, whether it takes them six months or two years,” Burnell-Smith said.