A few weeks ago, Tara Tarbox, Avalon’s Director of Property Management, received an email from Veronica Brandon, one of our tenants, who said: “Good morning, I am emailing you with an update. I was NACA qualified about 2 weeks ago. That means that I was prequalified for their home loan…..I have now found a house. It is a new construction in (Ypsilanti). At this time, they are projecting that the house will be complete in October or November. Who knew in 2005 when I first came to Avalon I would be sending an email like this!” Tara was thrilled to share Veronica’s news with Avalon staff. I sat down with Veronica to talk about her journey to Avalon and now, years later, becoming a first-time home buyer.
Life Before Avalon
When I was 18 years old, I had some huge arguments with my mom. I was the oldest and had to take responsibility for my four siblings for a long time. That included the cooking and cleaning. I was tired of it, and I just wanted to live on my own and be free. So I left home.
At first I first went to Ozone House, then spent a few years of working and renting apartments. I kept running into trouble, falling behind on rent and getting evicted. I would end up living with friends, or back at my mom’s. When I was in my 20’s, I had my first son and went through a really bad breakup.
In November of 2005 I was finally able to move into Avalon’s Arbordale property.
Even though I had been diagnosed with clinical depression at age 21, I had not learned that if you’re sad and you’re down all the time, it’s time to seek help. My Avalon property manager kept coming over and checking on me. I kept isolating myself, but she built a rapport with me and got me connected to a support coordinator (case manager) who helped me learn how to get help when I was having periods of depression.
When I came to Avalon, I didn’t know things like how to pay rent. I had not been taught any life skills. I always had a desire to be self-sufficient, but I didn’t know how. Avalon taught me.
Avalon and Supportive Housing
Talk about living at Avalon. What kind of help did you receive?
My case manager, Daicia, she took time to get to know me. And that changed my life. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to get a good job and to be a good mom. I also wanted to go to school. So, she helped me figure out how to get funding from WCC so I could go to school and then go on to complete my undergraduate degree. She helped connect me to resources. She also helped me find things that I could be successful at in the short term, so I could build on that. I was a hard person to deal with. But Avalon went into the trenches with me. They helped me look at my behaviors and asked “so what do we need to do to change this trajectory that you’re on?” They helped me remove barriers so I didn’t keep losing jobs and housing.
An Avalon Support Coordinator is key to helping people figure out things like how make a budget, and get your rent paid. They help you figure out how to keep DTE from shutting off your utilities. They know how to talk to everyone, like the people at DHS (Department of Human Services). Support Coordinators deal with people who are in crisis. They are the bridge to all the resources you need.
When I moved into Avalon’s Carrot Way property, I joined a parenting group for the moms. Avalon provided childcare during our meetings, and each mom would take turns cooking a meal for everyone. We were a support group for each other.
Where have you worked, and what kind of work do you do now?
I worked at Ann Arbor Public Schools for eight years while I completed college and got my MSW (Masters of Social Work). I then worked for the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority and then HAWC (Housing Access of Washtenaw County). In February of 2020, I went to work for the County OCED (Office of Community and Economic Development) as an Economic Opportunity Specialist. I focus on helping women and people of color get education and job opportunities. We help people get access to grant funds, small business loans and technical assistance for their businesses. We also help people find employment through Michigan Works.
When did you decide to apply for a first-time home buyer loan through NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America)? How does a NACA loan work?
When I started working at OCED, a co-worker asked me if I’d thought about buying a home. That’s when I learned about NACA, a non-profit community advocacy and home ownership program for low-to-moderate income home buyers. NACA covers my down payment and closing costs, and I pay the earnest money deposit on my home, plus inspection costs and private mortgage insurance. I’ll also pay below market-rate interest on my loan.
Avalon taught me about maintaining housing, and now NACA has taught me about becoming a first-time home buyer and home ownership.
A New Home for the Family
When you think about moving into your new home, what are you most looking forward to?
Honestly, I’m really looking forward to my teenage son not having to sleep in the living room. I have three kids – my oldest son is 17, my middle son is 16 and my daughter is 14. Each of my kids will have their own rooms! They’re going to decorate their own rooms. Also, they learned about gardening from the Edible Avalon program. So my kids are going to help me plant a garden at our new home.
Also, I am just in awe of the fact that I’m actually able to own my own home! I’ve always wanted to be self-sufficient and do things on my own, without depending on others to do it for me. That’s what I’m excited about.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I’m so happy my life took me here, because they (Avalon) taught me so much. I feel like it’s time for me to move on. Somebody else needs my spot here. There’s somebody out there who is where I was at all those years ago.
I think that people need to understand that supporting Avalon is a benefit to our community. Avalon really believes that everyone should have stable housing, and they’ll fight with you to get there. We’re all better off when people in our community have homes. When they’re not constantly in survival mode. I hope this story helps people who are struggling.
And finally, as Veronica told Tara when she first shared her good news:
(Avalon’s) programs truly work and are a GOD send for people who struggle with homelessness, mental illness, and everything in between. You all truly teach people how to maintain housing and many other life skills, as well as provide activities and functions for them and their families to give them something to do and show them what community truly is. I am truly grateful to everyone.
From all of us at Avalon, congratulations Veronica and family!