|Pacific Western Bank||
Ventura County Community Development Corporation (VCCDC)
|$15,000 WISH Grant|
Determination. Yolanda Fulton’s story is a case study in unstoppable determination. Determined to have a family. Determined to pursue higher education and a professional career. And determined to finally own a home of her own.
A struggling single mother when she first applied for a Section 8 housing voucher to provide shelter for her four young sons, today Yolanda has two bachelor’s degrees – one in Chicano studies and another in psychology, with a minor in sociology – and a master’s degree in social work. She now works full-time as a clinical social worker for the California Department of Corrections, which takes her away from home during the week because it’s too far away for a daily commute. And she’s currently working towards a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at California State University Channel Islands.
“I always had the drive to be a professional,” Yolanda says. But it was hard juggling parenthood, full-time jobs, and college. “I had help from the after-school program. They would keep the boys until 6 o’clock, so I arranged my class schedule around that,” Yolanda says. “And my mom and my sister helped a lot.” Still, Yolanda’s youngest son remembers that his mom would sometimes take him to school with her when she didn’t have other childcare options. “My mom is so hard-working, and I’m proud of her,” says 15-year-old Eric.
Growing up, Yolanda’s four boys had to be independent. She made sure they knew how to cook and do their own laundry from a young age, so they can manage while Yolanda is away four days a week for work. Because the prison in Delano is a 2.5-hour drive each way, Yolanda works four ten-hour days, staying with a friend in Bakersfield during the week and coming home for weekends. “Wednesday nights I pack up my car and then drive straight home after work on Thursdays,” Yolanda says.
Fifteen-year-old Eric is a good student but is most passionate about football, and he is already on the receiving end of sports recruitment pitches from colleges. Eric’s 18-year-old brother Rickie is at college studying sports psychology. Jimmy, 20, is working two jobs while training as a welder. And Yolanda’s eldest son Carl, 23, is looking into an accounting program at Oxnard College, following a workplace injury.
With her Section 8 housing voucher, Yolanda was eligible to enroll in the Oxnard Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which she enthusiastically did. The five-year FSS program, which establishes an interest-bearing escrow account for participants working toward specific goals that will ultimately free them from the need for public assistance, was a great fit for someone as ambitious as Yolanda. And she finished the program in four years, not five.
During those four years Yolanda’s income increased, which raised her rent payments. Based on the increases in her earned income, credits were deposited into her escrow account each month and her FSS savings grew to $15,000. There are no formal restrictions on how to use the money – many families use it to start a business or buy a home. “I was wavering between the two, but the house won,” says Yolanda. “On housing assistance we were always moving around. Owning a home means that my kids have security, stability.” And it means being able to say, “This is ours,” after many years living in houses that belonged to someone else, abiding by Section 8 rules and restrictions. “We don’t have inspectors anymore, so that’s good,” says Eric.
The first step on Yolanda’s journey toward homeownership was the time-consuming process of cleaning up her credit. Working with a counselor at Ventura County Community Development Corporation (VCCDC), Yolanda made phone calls and wrote letters of explanation in between seeing clients at her job at a nonprofit mental health clinic. Some of the FSS money was used to pay off old debts, and in the meantime, she got an even better paying job, which was helpful in eventually qualifying for a mortgage on a house large enough for her family.
VCCDC’s mission is to create homeowners, because the organization believes that a home is more than a place to live: it is the cornerstone of economic, environmental, and social well-being. When Yolanda was ready to purchase, VCCDC arranged the financing, which included a $15,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s WISH Program. WISH offers first-time homebuyers a 3-1 match for every dollar they save for a home purchase. To access WISH funds for Yolanda, VCCDC partnered with Bank member Pacific Western Bank.
“Homeownership is an important wealth-building tool, and a source of stability that can help families build a better future,” says Tad Lowrey, chairman of Pacific Western Bank. “As a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, we are pleased to provide access to resources like the WISH Program to help hard working families and build stronger communities.” As a participant in two of the Bank’s first-time homebuyer programs, to date Pacific Western Bank has disbursed nearly half a million dollars in downpayment assistance grants to help lower-income families become homeowners.
With a $58,000 soft loan from CalHome, a $25,000 soft loan from the City of Oxnard, and the maximum possible WISH grant, Yolanda was able to make a $98,000 downpayment on a large ranch-style home in an Oxnard neighborhood where they have extended family nearby. “My mortgage payment is actually lower than my Section 8 rent was going to be,” says Yolanda. “It is just a lot cheaper.”
Juggling a demanding full-time job with her studies, Yolanda expects to finish her Ph.D. in about four years. Her ultimate goal is to open a nonprofit organization to help low-income families, and possibly veterans, access all the services they need to become self-sufficient. “I had so many resources,” Yolanda says. “I want to be able to give that back to the community.” In the meantime, Yolanda is volunteering with VCCDC, helping other people through the process. “I think it’s fantastic that she is telling her story, and then also helping other families figure out how to do this,” says Elsa Monte, head of CRA and Community Development at Pacific Western Bank.
Bertha Garcia, VCCDC Executive Director, notes what a huge step it is to leave public or subsidized housing, from the perspective of someone who also grew up in public housing. “There’s a sense of fear, of the unknown,” she explains. “But Yolanda is a great example of how it can be a stepping stone to get you further, of how it can be done.” Bertha and colleague Alex Vega, Director of Lending Services, were so impressed by Yolanda’s success that they invited her to join VCCDC’s board. “Her story is so inspiring,” Alex says. “She set the goal and had the drive to get it done.”