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Susan Smith Credits Housing Assistance as Life-Changing

June 2020

Easy. Accommodating. Friendly. Trustworthy.

Those are just a few of the adjectives Susan Smith used to describe the Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program.

“People were responsive and easy to communicate with, and they followed through. I can’t really separate the people from the program – the people make the program. The people running the program want it to be successful. The HOF support services are one of its greatest strengths. The breadth of services is wonderful.”

Susan and her husband had only lived in Pittsburgh for three years before they purchased their house.

“The HOF staff made something possible for us that we couldn’t have done on our own. They recognize that home ownership can be prohibitive for people. People that live paycheck to paycheck need security, too. Many of us are working over 40 hours a week, trying, and failing.

“For us, the assistance program was life-changing - we pay half of what we paid in rent in mortgage. And that’s with the escrow and the taxes, too,” said Smith.

Here's more of what Susan had to say:

What do you believe are Housing Opportunity Fund’s greatest strengths?

The HOF staff will also help you to build credit. I was in an outside lending and credit-building program for a year – I didn’t know the HOF could also help you build your credit.

What kind of an impact is the Housing Opportunity Fund making in the City of Pittsburgh? Do you feel they fill a gap in the region? How do you feel their work is important?

The Housing Opportunity Fund makes me feel more attached to the city. We had only lived here for 3 years before we purchased a house – we were newbies to Pittsburgh. I liked it here right away – it’s quirky and interesting, and the cost of living is better than in some other larger cities. The fact that someone was willing to say, ‘We’d like you to buy a house here, and we don’t care if you didn’t grow up here and aren’t from here’ meant a lot to me. It’s heartwarming to feel like Pittsburgh wants us in the community. If someone owns a property, they are going to want to take care of it, and they’re going to call the police if anything happens - home ownership has many benefits for people and for neighborhoods. 

There were three requirements for the program – your income had to meet the criteria, you had to be a first-time homebuyer in Pittsburgh, and you had to take the one-day course to earn a certificate in order to receive a check at closing. It was really pretty user-friendly and straightforward. My realtor actually texted me recently asking about the program, I think because he had another client that wanted to use it. 

The money they gave us for the down payment is forgiven at 10% a year and ensures that people stay in the homes they’ve used assistance to purchase. This helps build neighborhoods and keep people in place. And we were never going to be able to get our credit score up without help.

If Pittsburgh didn’t have a program like the Housing Opportunity Fund, where do you think you would be? Would your situation be different?

It’s more than just helping someone get into a house, in a few years, our credit score will be better, we can get lower interest rates on credit, lower our debt, and we can work on paying off our student loans. 

We were stuck in this place where we were living check-to-check, and on paper, we shouldn’t have been living check to check, but we were.  We were always paying our bills and paying everything on time – we were trying, but we couldn’t get ahead. Without the down payment assistance program, we would still be renting, while trying to save for a down payment and pay all our bills.  I can’t even imagine how we would have been able to save enough – it would have been years.  And that’s true for so many people. Two people working full time that live check to check – we saw the ramifications of that during the COVID-19 crisis at the food banks.

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