LYNN — Moving into her new home earlier this month was a dream come true for Lynn resident Hellen Chavez.
As someone who had struggled to save money in the past, homeownership was something Chavez had thought was out of reach for a long time.
“I promised my kids before Christmas we were going to have our own home,” said Chavez, 37. “That’s why I tried really hard for my dream to come true for my children. I wanted them to keep believing in dreams and try really hard for them.”
Until she closed on her new three-family home on Cottage Street Nov. 9, Chavez had been a resident of Curwin Circle, where she had lived in low-income public housing managed by Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) since 2010.
About 10 years ago, Chavez learned from a staff member that as a Lynn Housing Authority resident, she qualified for LHAND’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program, which gives clients a chance to save money toward purchasing a home.
The FSS program provides clients a savings account, where they can save part of their rent payments as they earn more money at work. As clients see an increase in wages, their income-based rent also increases, but rather than having to pay that increase, they are able to put the difference in their savings account, according to Cathy Rowe, FSS coordinator for LHAND.
“It’s kind of an incentive,” said Rowe. “Your rent will go up, but that increase goes into a savings account in order to guide them to save the money.”
Over the five-year span of the FSS program, clients can save thousands of dollars, which allows some, like Chavez, to purchase their own home, or if that’s not possible, they can put the funds toward going back to school or paying for their children’s college education, Rowe said.
Chavez has been with the program for 10 years. She said she used the savings from her first five-year contract to purchase a new car and during her second five-year period, she was able to save $16,000 for a down payment on her new home.
“Hellen is a hard worker and her goal right from the start was to own her own home,” said Rowe. “She worked on lowering her debt, improving her credit, and created a savings account to be able to get to where she is today.
“She (purchased) a three-family on Cottage Street for a little over $700,000 with a (mortgage) rate of 2.25 percent. We’ve had Curwin FSS grads purchase homes before, but never at this caliber.”
But the FSS program is not just a savings account, said Rowe, explaining that it is designed to help residents succeed.
Each client has to meet with their assigned FSS coordinator, or financial coach, who helps provide them with the tools they need to become financially stable, such as financial classes that help them with budgeting and improving their credit score, Rowe said.
And the program is designed to push clients to get an education or a better job so their wages, and therefore their rent, will increase, which allows them to save more money, Rowe said.
“The FSS program is designed to help Lynn Housing residents not only achieve their dream of homeownership, but to give them the tools and resources they need to succeed in life,” said Charles Gaeta, LHAND executive director. “We are proud of Hellen and all our FSS clients who have worked so hard to achieve their dreams.“
Ten percent of LHAND FSS graduates go on to homeownership, which is “pretty good,” Rowe said. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) database, the Lynn Housing FSS program is among the top 10 of its kind in the country, she said.
Graduates of LHAND’s FSS program are typically able to put $10,000 for a down payment toward a two- or three-bedroom house, but since Chavez had almost double that and some of her own money saved as well, she was able to buy a three-family home.
“Just the difference she had there was pretty substantial,” said Rowe. “Her story is a huge success. Not only did she go on to home ownership but she went on to a three-family. She’s the most successful I’ve seen and I’ve been here 16 years.”
Chavez said she is living on the third floor with her husband, Walter Avendano, and her two children, ages 9 and 16. She is renting out the bottom two floors to help pay bills and save, which she hopes will eventually allow them to purchase a single-family home.
She used to be a school bus driver, but now works as a cleaner for her husband’s cleaning company. For years, Chavez said she had trouble saving money, and credits the FSS program for helping to change that.
During her first stint with the program, she was not able to save enough money for a house, but knew that she wanted to keep going to achieve her dream of buying her own home, Chavez said.
Weeks after moving, Chavez said she is still finding her new reality hard to believe. Not only was it her dream for herself, but also hers as a mother, to provide a better home and more space for her two children. Now, her kids have their own rooms after sharing one for 10 years, and “look and feel more comfortable,” she said.
“It’s like a dream come true and housing has helped a lot. It’s a big opportunity and a big change for me and my kids. I’m still trying to realize this is real, this is true, because for me, it is a big, huge thing, a big deal.”