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High Stakes in Hard Times: Bringing Community Home

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Chatham resident Melinda Powell has a history of taking her community under her wing. Whether showing her neighbors how to save on their grocery shopping, running an after school and GED program, or helping friends fill out applications for Section 8 vouchers, Melinda shares what she knows. “Some people hold stuff back,” she says. “I don’t do that, I share it.”

Herself a Section 8 voucher holder, Melinda qualified for the Choose to Own (CTO) program, which allows voucher holders to apply their vouchers to a home mortgage, and it was through the program that she was referred to Spanish Coalition for Housing (SCH). “When I first saw Anna, she knew I wasn’t playing,” Melinda recalls, describing her first visits to SCH, where she met with financial literacy specialist and pre-purchase counselor Anna Jimenez at SCH’s SouthEast office.

Anna was struck by Melinda’s determination. “For her, she felt she wasn’t ready,” Anna explains, even though Melinda had enough savings and high enough credit to qualify. But for Melinda, the decision to buy a home was a serious one, and she was committed to being as ready as possible. “No matter how long it took me, I had to pay those debts down,” Melinda says. Over the next year, Melinda stuck to a strict budget in order to pay off her debts, and learned as much as she could about building and managing credit.

In 2015, nearly 3,000 people were shot in Chicago. As DNAinfo reports, January 2016 saw 270 more shooting victims, a large increase from this time last year. In the face of rising homicide rates and pressure from community organizations to declare a state of emergency over gun violence in the city, safety is at the forefront of Chicago residents’ minds. But Chicago’s communities are more than the sum of their shootings; Melinda’s new home once belonged to legendary gospel songwriter Thomas A. Dorsey, and her neighbors are kind, “they look out for each other.” Community development and support are answers to violence, and connections between people preserve the vibrancy of these communities.

Melinda is relieved that she feels safe on her street –“I haven’t heard one gunshot,” she says. As a homeowner, Melinda sees her work of sharing resources and supporting her neighbors as high-stakes in hard times, and is dedicated to supporting her community in getting the housing stability they need to keep their children safe. “We don’t have time to play around,” she says. “With everything that’s going on, kids can’t even be kids anymore.”

Homeownership is a powerful asset for achieving stability, and it doesn’t have to be inaccessible to low-income families. Melinda offers this advice to others who have always wanted a home but don’t know how to get there: “Whenever you’re trying to do something, you want it that bad, be patient. Things may not always go your way, but when that closing day comes it’s the best day ever. These opportunities are here! Don’t wait too long.”

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