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Emerald Huggins’ Journey to Homeownership

December 2020

“What a gift to own a space to cultivate love, acceptance, and grace for myself.”

The URA is committed to ensuring all Pittsburghers have access to quality housing. Our affiliate, Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) advances this commitment through its financing and rehabilitation of City of Pittsburgh homes, to be sold affordably to residents seeking homeownership. PHDC aims to increase affordable homeownership opportunities in the City, with a strong focus on building generational wealth. It is a pleasure to share the story of PHDC participant Emerald Huggins, a Crafton Heights resident who recently bought his first home.

Learn more about his homeownership journey in his own words:

How did you come to the decision you wanted to purchase a home? What steps did you take to reach this accomplishment?

I moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 during the “Great Recession,” so buying a home in an unstable economy didn’t feel like a safe option for years, especially being a minority. I’ve attempted several times to see if it was a viable option, but I encountered several roadblocks. Whether it was the housing market, financial trouble, poor credit score, or limited knowledge and resources, purchasing became more and more daunting. This year, I was more prepared than I have ever been. I started my process with calculating my savings and noting how much I could afford in a mortgage. Next, I looked at my credit score and the details in my credit report. My next step was discussing personal finances with friends who have purchased homes. Talking about finances can be intimidating and embarrassing, so I chose people who I could trust. The Urban League homeownership seminar gave me more information about local resources to assist with my home-buying process. I researched my options, got pre-approved, and contacted the URA to see what they had to offer.  

How did you learn about the listing for your new home and the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation?

Originally, I called Justin Belton, PHDC project development manager, to inquire about the façade program. I was thinking about buying the home I was renting and wanted to do some work on the front, but unfortunately that project didn’t meet criteria. He asked me several questions to see if he could be of further assistance and discussed all the housing programs the URA and PHDC had to offer. We exchanged emails and he made sure I got to the right people to help me with what I was looking to purchase. A few days later, I was telling a friend that I want to purchase a home in the Hill District, and he said, ‘You have to talk to Rich.’ I contacted Rich Snipe, PHDC deputy & assistant director, and he got back to me immediately. He told me all housing options that were available in the Hill District, but none of them fit my needs. He asked me what I was looking for and explained what the PHDC does. When he told me about my home, I knew that it was the one I wanted. It had everything I needed and more.  

How did it feel the day you moved into your home?

Overall, I felt loved, proud, and full of grace. Yes, all the sacrifice and hard work paid off, but I know that having this home was not on my merits alone. I reflected on what I went through to get here. I came from very humble beginnings with no family financial support. Six years ago, my credit score was 590 and no savings at all. With years of dedication, I paid debts and saved, saved, saved. If it wasn’t for the URA, PHDC and my lender, purchasing my current home would not have been possible for a very long time.  

What was it like moving during a pandemic? Were there any hurdles?

Moving can be extremely stressful and adding a pandemic does not help the situation. As a nurse, I didn’t want to infect anyone during the process. The virus spreads with human contact, however moving all my things alone would have impossible. In a normal move, I would have elicited as many friends as possible, but I wanted to keep our group small to be safe. I made sure masks and hand sanitizer were provided and I asked each person if they were feeling okay prior to the move. Five of my dear friends helped me load and unload a 15’ U-Haul and three cars, and 2.5 hours later, I was all moved into my first home.  

What does it mean to you to be a first-time homebuyer?

My family is not in a position to assist me financially with purchasing my home. So, this purchase had to be up to me to figure out how to make it happen. None of us start the race in the same position, and some people start a lot further ahead than others. The URA/PHDC helped accelerate my start where alone it would have not been possible to achieve homeownership. If I was to rent a house for similar square footage, a garage, a yard, with central air in the city, and no roommates, I would not be able to save as much as I currently am. Having this home will help me build wealth to help my family’s next generation.  

What was your experience like working with the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation?

From our initial conversation, Justin and Rich, spent more than 45 minutes getting to know me and answering my questions. I thanked them because buying a home can be a very confusing process. I made a few mistakes, and they were always responsive and helpful. If you would like to purchase, but don’t have a lot of capital, I couldn’t recommend a PHDC home enough. As a first-time homebuyer, I was looking for a place that was renovated well at a reasonable price.  

How would you describe your homeownership experience so far? Do you like your neighborhood?

This has been truly a beautiful, yet stressful experience. The housing market has been volatile because of low mortgage interest rates, an unstable economy, and cash investors. Submitting my final bid for the house, I wrote a letter to the URA and PHDC stating why I wanted this house. Thank God I did, because I was outbid for the home. There are so many quick ups and downs, and twists and turns, but overall a very, positive experience. This is a very quiet, friendly neighborhood, and I love it!  

"My intention is to invest in my neighborhood, my future, and the wellbeing of others around me."


Any future plans you’d like to share or things you are excited about as a new homeowner?

The thing I'm most excited about is making this house my home. I’ve never painted a room and I rarely hung art or pictures on a wall, because I knew the place was not my own. What a gift to own a space to cultivate love, acceptance, and grace for myself.

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