Some parents may view using a wall to keep track of their child’s height year after year as an ordinary way to honor a milestone, but for one Fort Worth mother it also symbolizes financial stability.
Audra Sapp, 39, and her two children have frequently moved from public housing units, rented rooms and homes of family members. She said the simple way of keeping track of her children’s heights is an act of stability.
“I’ll have that proof of stability just in that one act,” Sapp said. “It’s so amazing that it can speak so loudly to me the way it does. It’s just so important.”
The family is currently counting down the days until they will officially move into their own house in the Como neighborhood. A home that will not have bug infestations or mold causing her children to become sick.
For many people, having affordable options to own a home allows them to improve their quality of life and save money for other necessities. But the housing market in Texas has made it difficult for first-time buyers, who are low to moderate income, to get a home under $300,000.
Someone who is low-income makes less than 50% of the area median income, while moderate-income means a person makes between 50-80%, according to the Federal Reserve. The U.S. Census Bureau reported the median household income for Fort Worth is $62,187.
Lydia Traina, senior director of development for Trinity Habitat for Humanity, said a home is a way that helps combat issues surrounding a life in poverty.
“When families have safe and affordable homes, they have the freedom to thrive,” Traina said. “The ripple effect creates margin in their finances and time allowing for things many people take for granted each day.”
The housing market
In Fort Worth, the average number of days a home is on the market is 25, according to Texas A&M Real Estate Research Center’s August housing insight report. This shows that demand is still high.
Luis Torres, a research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center, said strong demand and low supply can push up prices. The housing market is affected by various things, including lack of supply, builders being behind and more people deciding not to sell their homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also influenced housing prices in the area by worsening the reasons behind the demand.
“The people who want to make that transition from renter to homeowner, I think it is making it more difficult for them for that to happen,” Torres said.
Parenthood led Sapp to wanting a home of her own after she had her first child 13 years ago. Saying her dream out loud seemed impossible because the goal was “too big,” she said.
Sapp has spent half of her income on rental housing which left no room for “exploring our life” but only enough money to pay for essential expenses. The costs of rentals in the Tarrant County area is the fifth highest in the state.
Sapp said for years she couldn’t qualify for anything other than public housing, rented rooms or staying with family. Her options were really slim.
“You see people around you going on trips or saving for something big, and all of these different after-school activities,” Sapp said. “There’s just so much you that miss out on when you are paying for everything that you have for a place to stay that isn’t ever going to be yours.”
Affording stability through homeownership
Sapp said having a stable job and working on her credit allowed buying a home through Habitat for Humanity an option. She applied for Habitat in early 2020.
Trinity Habitat for Humanity provides a variety of services concerning homeownership. Potential home owners must meet eligibility criteria, including not owning a home, fit HUD requirements, be employed for at least 12 months and be willing to help build their home.
A person will not pay more than 31% of their income for monthly mortgage payments when buying a home with Habitat for Humanity.
The family’s new 3-bedroom home will be close to Sapp’s work and their church. She is looking forward to giving her children their own rooms, having her own bathroom, and building family traditions.
“There’s just so much more that we can see and do without that struggle,” Sapp said.
Homeownership leading to generational wealth
Homeownership is a form of “generational wealth” since it allows families to pass on an asset, like a house, to the next generation.
Leslie Fernandez May, 28, and her younger brother Max Fernandez, 19, own their home with their brother, Oscar, 26. The three were children when their late mother, Veronica Tovar, bought the home near Paschal High School through Habitat in 2009. May and her husband now live in the home with their two children.
“We feel free, we feel comfortable,” Veronica Tovar said in a video after two weeks of living in their home. “It’s just very relaxing.”
Veronica Tovar died in 2014 due to cancer. The affordable mortgage and their mother’s life insurance helped the siblings have the ability to pay off the home. The stability gave May, at the age of 21, the ability to get custody of Max, who was 12 at the time.
Fernandez remembers seeing the future location of their home with their mother before it was built. She wanted her children to be close to family and near good schools.
“There was a reason why she picked certain things,” May said. “And it gave (Max) the chance to thrive.”
The home allowed Fernandez to have different childhood experiences than his older siblings. He had teachers to help him with dyslexia and went to Paschal. Fernandez started extracurricular activities, like choir and cross country, at an earlier age than his siblings.
“I got a dog for one of my birthdays. It was a Chow Chow,” Fernandez said.
The family opened a savings account, went on more vacations. May was able to become the first in their family to graduate college and be debt-free. The home gave them a place to make memories and find peace.
“Having a home reminds you of the times that you have with family or those who are not here anymore,” Fernandez said. “It is the small little things that remind you of a certain memory.”
May said the home gives her peace knowing her children will have a permanent place to live. She doesn’t have to worry about moving around like as a child.
“When you’re a kid, you want to know that you are safe, May said. “That you have space to be who you are and who you’re called to be.”
Services to help homebuyers
The city of Fort Worth’s Homebuyer Assistance Program, created 25 years ago, is one of many across the state and country. The program assisted 76 people in 2019.
Lilia Escobedo, senior loans services representative for the program, said it provides up to $20,000 in mortgage assistance to first-time buyers based on income limits and family size. Financial subsidies are available for closing costs and down payments.
First, people need to be pre-approved by a participating lender. Then, they will take an 8-hour HUD approved counseling course and can start looking for a home.
Clients must buy a home within Fort Worth’s city limits and agree to live in the home for at least 5 years, among other requirements.
Fort Worth Homebuyer Assistance: 817-392-7395
Trinity Habitat for Humanity: 817-926-9219
Housing Opportunities of Fort Worth: 817-923-9192