Avenue has completed the Neighborhood LIFT program, which began in March, 2019. LIFT is a unique down payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and administered nationally by NeighborWorks America. The program selects different markets around the country for a one-time pot of funds to be distributed in the form of forgivable loans to low- and middle-income individuals and families. In the case of Houston, a pot of $5,000,000 with a loan size of $15,000 (or $17,500 for first responders, military individuals, and teachers) was allotted and Avenue was selected as the local administrator and lender of the funds, with Fifth Ward CRC and Tejano Center contributing as partner organizations.
LIFT was much larger-scale than Avenue’s usual lending programs, and required a significant amount of staff training and preparation, spearheaded by Berenice Yu. The program began with a launch event in early 2019 in which hundreds of interested families were able to attend and reserve their funds. From there, Avenue’s LIFT team guided applicants throughout the process from determining their eligibility to processing and underwriting their LIFT loan, all the way to closing. In total, we helped 295 deserving clients get a head start on creating equity in their homes and building long term wealth.
Our LIFT clients, many of whom also participated in Avenue’s homebuyer education and pre-purchase counseling, were overwhelmingly pleased and thankful for the funds. One client, Mr. Michael Swinson, closed on his home in December 2020, after an arduous and drawn out process. A veteran, Mr. Swinson dealt with unexpected delays in almost every facet of his purchase, and at times seemed unsure that the purchase would ever go through. Avenue’s lending team, in conjunction with the LIFT team at NeighborWorks, was able to provide the flexibility and guidance necessary to get to closing. After his closing, Mr. Swinson was elated, and expressed his sincere thanks to Avenue for helping make his home purchase a reality, and said that we are invited to his first cookout when he is able to have it.
Homeownership is the #1 best way for a family to establish generational wealth. Down payment assistance programs like this one are a vital tool to help marginalized and underserved communities that have historically been excluded from homeownership process due to racist practices such as redlining and discrimination by lenders. While significant racial disparities persist in rates of homeownership the Houston area, Avenue is proud to have contributed to the lessening of those disparities by serving a majority of families of color through this program.
Our sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of the LIFT program, including but not limited to all of the Avenue staff who worked on the program, Wells Fargo Foundation, NeighborWorks America, Fifth Ward CRC, Tejano center, and most of all the clients themselves.