It’s a huge plus that she’s so organized. Phillips, a Ward 8 resident who qualifies as very low income, is hoping to buy the property just around the corner from her current apartment in Anacostia. While the unit is inexpensive by D.C.’s standards, it’s still going to be a stretch for her and her husband, Kelvin Jeffries. As is the case for many would-be low-income homeowners in the city, buying the condo would come only as the result of years of planning, cleaning up their credit, saving every penny and cobbling together funding from a variety of sources.
In their attempt to buy the condo, Phillips and Jeffries will be making use of several tools provided by local nonprofit organizations and the D.C. government, which prioritizes homeownership for lower-income Washingtonians.
In this dismal economy, many homeowners of all income levels have found themselves falling behind on their mortgages. But Phillips says she’s working now to avoid those problems. “We’re already maintaining good credit, so it won’t be hard,” she says. “Keeping the house and the mortgage paid won’t be a problem at all because owning is going to be cheaper for us than renting.”
For years, Phillips, 55, and Jeffries, 49, survived fine as renters: Together since 1981, the couple worked modest jobs — she as a legal assistant, he as a cook — that paid the rent.
But in 2006, Phillips was diagnosed with breast cancer; three years later, the cancer had metastasized and she was told she had an inoperable tumor on her spine. After a 3 1
2-month stay in a hospital that included major surgery and rehabilitation, Phillips was released in a wheelchair. These days, she’s able to walk freely, but the upper section of her back is numb and the tumor is still there. In lieu of working, she collects monthly Social Security disability payments.
All along, she and Jeffries had the idea of owning a home in the backs of their minds. “Seven years ago, I was working in a law firm,” Phillips says, “and there was a legal secretary there who bought a home through Manna. I left that job, but I always had it in the back of my mind: Manna. Manna will get me a home.”
Helping poor families
Manna is one of the city’s most active homeownership organizations. Since 1982, the group has built or renovated almost 1,000 housing units for low-income people and helped many others obtain mortgages. But it’s arguably best known for its Homebuyers Club, which prepares participants for homeownership through one-on-one discussions with staff and a series of regularly scheduled support groups.
The Homebuyers Club has helped more than 400 poor families buy houses since 1986 — not a lot, mainly because it often takes years for the applicants to resolve their credit issues so they can make the purchase and many simply drop out, staff members say. Still, program director Willamena Samuels acknowledges that the organization’s follow-up efforts are limited. While staff send out mailings to stay in touch with buyers and comb public records to check for foreclosures, the organization has no real way of determining when someone is having trouble making payments.