April 27, 2024

Blessings Along the Journey to Home

I need a home. Tina had the thought while holding her newborn son, dreaming about a future place they could call home. She was exhausted by keeping up with rising costs of rent and difficult landlords. As a single mom, she wondered if she could ever afford to become a homeowner. 

Tina came to Grand Rapids in 1992 after growing up on the east side of the state. She found a job working at a branch of Old Kent Bank, now Fifth Third Bank. She balanced work and family responsibilities with caring for her young son. Tina wanted to find a stable home, but it needed to be affordable and compatible with her finances and credit history.

First, Tina applied for help with Habitat for Humanity. When she learned her income was just a little outside of their qualifications, someone referred her to ICCF Community Homes. Tina stopped into a small ICCF office at 515 Jefferson, the Housing Opportunity Center, to discuss her options. Not only did ICCF have resources to help Tina attain an affordable home, they would also equip her for the long-term challenge of homeownership.

“What I really liked about ICCF was they prepared you to be a homeowner,” Tina said, “so that you would be successful and stay in your home. Classes on budgeting, credit remediation, how to do repairs on your house—I was really impressed with that.” At the time, ICCF was just beginning to take on new construction projects and build single-family homes. Walking alongside the staff at ICCF, Tina was able to pick out her lot and watch her future home come to life. Hers was one of the first ICCF constructions to include a garage, she remembered fondly.

“When I moved in with my son, it felt like I had accomplished a dream,” said Tina. “I was letting my son know that this is something he could do. You don’t have to wait for someone else, or listen when they tell you it’s impossible.”

The home was part of ICCF’s lease/purchase program, where prospective homebuyers could lease a home while saving up to buy it. Tina began leasing the home after its completion in 2002 and was ready to purchase it just two years later. “I love my home so much,” said Tina. “It’s remained affordable. I love the community. I love the seasons. West Michigan is beautiful.”

When the economy took a downturn in the late 2000s, Tina could still afford her mortgage; she didn’t have to worry about losing her home. A few years after she bought the house, she transitioned to a new career at Grand Valley State University, where she’s had an impressive 20-year tenure. After initially thinking of her house as a “starter home,” Tina found herself settling in for the long run. Her son went to grade school, then high school, and then graduated from college—a proud GVSU Laker, of course. Now he’s working and living at home with Tina, saving up money to afford his own apartment. But, she noted with a laugh, she doesn’t see him too often. Between his job, friends, and girlfriend, he’s always out and about, with a safe place to come back to.

“If it wasn’t for ICCF, I don’t know if my dreams of becoming a homeowner would have come to pass for me,” said Tina. “I’m really grateful that the program existed, especially as a single parent and an African American woman. I just thank God that they were there to prepare me, not just financially, but to help me sustain and stay in my home.” 

Tina’s home has always been a welcoming place. Her aging mother moved in with Tina for several years before transitioning to senior housing, and several friends have found a safe place with Tina during times of need. Her front porch provides a peaceful retreat when the weather is nice, while the open floor plan on the main level has hosted many gatherings with friends and family.

“We can all come together in one space and enjoy each other,” said Tina. The first time a visitor comes, she explains where everything is located in the house. The second time, she tells them there’s no need to ask permission, just help yourself.

“Over the years I’ve had a couple of people say, ‘Your home is just so full of love. You welcomed us with open arms,’” said Tina. “I just feel like God blessed me with something, and if I’m able to be a blessing to someone in need, to help someone else along their journey, it puts everything in perspective.” 

ICCF Community Homes

ICCF Community Homes is the oldest non-profit affordable housing provider in the state of Michigan. Active in the Grand Rapids area since 1974, ICCF serves over 2,000 households a year through its programs and services. Program offerings include Family Haven emergency shelter, over 700 units of affordable rental housing, newly constructed homes for purchase, homeownership education and financial counseling.

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