|TruWest Credit Union||
Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc.
|$15,000 WISH Grant
At 42, Susana “Susie”’ Zavala is staking a claim on independence and self-sufficiency, with a new job and a home of her own in Mesa, Arizona. Originally from California, Susie married young and raised three children in a house that her husband provided for the family in Utah. When their fourth child, Jayla, was a toddler, the marriage was coming to an end. With the support of her older children, Susie decided to make a fresh start by moving to Arizona, where she had extended family and close friends. “It was a hard marriage. After 20 years I was ready for this move.”
Once her decision was made, getting a job in Mesa was Susie’s first priority. She searched online postings, and when she saw a job opportunity that looked like the right fit, she applied. She was thrilled to be invited to interview for the position and drove to Mesa. Luckily she was able to stay a week in Mesa with a family friend, because she was asked to return for a second interview that landed her the job. “I went back to Utah and told the kids, ‘Okay, I got a job in Arizona, I'm moving!’ And I just packed up my clothes and left with Jayla to live in Mesa.”
For the first eight months that Susie was settling into her new job as a division administrator for a maintenance company, she and Jayla shared a bedroom in a relative’s home. Grateful as she was to the aunt and uncle who made room for mother and daughter during this transition, it was a struggle being in someone else’s house, following other peoples’ rules, and always trying not to be in the way. It was especially difficult for 4-year-old Jayla to keep her toys tucked away in the bedroom. “We cried sometimes because it was hard, with just one room," Susie says. “It wasn't my house, I couldn't do anything there. It was hard like that.”
Susie was determined that the next step on her path to independence was to buy a home of her own. “I’ve always saved money, and I believe in owning a home instead of renting. I felt renting was a waste of money.” Her teenage son Angel, who had stayed behind in Utah for school, wanted to make the move to Mesa, too, once his mother and Jayla were settled in their own place, so that was further motivation for Susie to find a way to become a homeowner.
“As a member-owned cooperative with a mission of serving our community, TruWest Credit Union is thrilled to partner with the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco to provide WISH grants to low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers,” says Alan Althouse, TruWest Credit Union President and CEO. And TruWest doesn't do it moderately. “Since 2013, we have been able to help over 300 families buy their first home, providing $4.6 million in downpayment grant assistance.” The credit union keeps most of the millions of dollars in mortgages made to these buyers on their books.
Susie’s call to TruWest was answered by loan officer Katherine Sciascia, who provided valuable guidance throughout the process. “It really was a learning and growth experience for me, since I didn’t have a realtor and the house was for sale by owner, but Katherine was a lot of help,” Susie says. “I am truly grateful.” The experience was rewarding for Katherine, too. “Susie was very nice and extremely excited to buy her home,” Katherine says. “It is a foundation for a new life for a single mother.” Katherine determined that because Susie had already saved $5,000 to buy a house, she qualified for the maximum matching WISH grant of $15,000.
The purchasing process didn’t run entirely smoothly, and Susie appreciates the things she learned in the homebuyer class that all WISH grant recipients are required to take. “You learn the good and the bad of owning a home," Susie says of the course she took from Chicanos Por La Causa. "The bad is you have to keep saving money for repairs, and I've learned how true that is already.” In making her offer on the house, she was aware that an old water heater would need to be replaced before too long. But just before closing, the roof collapsed and broke the elderly water heater. Katherine helped Susie evaluate the seller’s terms for replacing both the roof and the water heater. “He was willing to fix the roof but wanted to raise the price. She said, 'Look, this is your call, but you're going to have this house with a brand new roof for a lot of years, and it will only up your payment like $20 dollars.’”
In buying a house, Susie was clear that it was all about investing in her own long-term independence. Early on in her search, she passed on a house that she knew was not really affordable, even as a realtor tried to persuade her that making the payment would get easier over time. “I will never forget. She said, ‘You can always make more money.' And I said, ‘Yeah, but I'm the one paying it, and if I can't afford it, I'm not going to sign.' So I closed that door.”
Affordability, an attached garage, and two full bathrooms – Susie was equally clear that whatever home she bought would need those three essential elements. She wanted the garage to feel safe when she arrived home at night with little Jayla, and two bathrooms would mean that when her older daughters came to visit, there’d be no fighting for a single bathroom. There are just two bedrooms, but there is a big backyard and plenty of space for Jayla’s toys. “To her it’s like freedom, after all our struggles,” Susie says. “And when the older girls do come to visit, we just all pile up together.”
Once his mom got the house, Angel was ready to join Susie and Jayla in Mesa. “We encouraged her to make the move, and now she’s become more independent,” he says with pride. Angel is an artist, and the backyard makes a great studio in the warm Arizona climate. He’s working on doing some paintings to decorate the house. Susie and Jayla are sharing a room again, but it’s worth it to have Angel with them until it’s time for him to go off to college. “Being able to bring my son to live with me, that's like the greatest thing,” Susie says.
With just a bit of a boost from a WISH grant, delivered with heartfelt enthusiasm by TruWest Credit Union, Susie is ready for the next chapter of her life. “I wanted a house that I can call my own,” Susie says. “Nobody thought I was going to be able to do it, that I was going to be able to get a house. Neither did I. I am blessed and very grateful.”