Photo courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

As new investment continues to come into the neighborhood, our priority at ELDI is to ensure that minorities and long-time East Liberty residents benefit from the rising tide. In 2017, we launched our Affordable Homeownership Opportunities Program (AHO) to that end. This program aims to increase affordable homeownership throughout East Liberty by helping individuals get the support they need to become homeowners. Our ultimate goal is to see more families building wealth that can be passed on for generations.

Today, we are sharing AHO participant, Samantha Jeffries-Gillcrese’s, homeownership story. Samantha is a Homewood native who was displaced from her home in East Liberty Gardens in 2016. During the relocation process, ELDI let her know that there were affordable homeownership options available and connected her with Catapult Greater Pittsburgh (formerly known as Circles Greater Pittsburgh) to start the homeownership education process. As a busy mom and career advisor for Pennsylvania CareerLink, Samantha put in the hard work necessary to become a homeowner, and we were happy to see her close on her home in August of this year.

Learn more about her homeownership journey in our Q&A below.

When did you know that homeownership was something you wanted to pursue?

My whole goal when I moved to East Liberty Gardens was to buy a house. I was never going to live there very long ago—it was a temporary move to save money.

After ELDI connected you with Catapult, what were the next steps?

They showed me this house on Selma Street, and I just loved it—the house and the location—so I decided I wanted it immediately. After that, I went to workshops and began working with Brettney Duck, Catapult’s family, community, and social equity coordinator. She started giving me financial guidance. At that point, I wasn’t with a bank since I’d had some bad experiences, so the first thing I did was open a bank account. Then, I started building up my credit, which meant paying my bills on time, getting stuff paid off, trying to save money, etc.

What was the Catapult process like?

I attended workshops and had appointments with Brettney, who helped me a lot. She helped me pull and monitor my credit and gave me tips on what to do to keep things off my credit report. Everyone was very nice, and the workshops were helpful and informative.

How long did the whole process take, from when you started working with Catapult until you actually closed on your home?

Four years. There were a lot of different setbacks. I was supposed to close several different times, and then something would happen. It was either the bank or ELDI, or then it was my fault one time.

Samantha Gillcrese_ELDI Affordable Homeownership Opportunities Program
Photo courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation

You closed on your house August 14th of this year. How does it feel now that it’s yours?

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t this miraculous, oh my god, wonderful thing. It was a long, stressful process, and of course, there were other things going on during that time, including everything happening with COVID. With that said, of course, it feels good to set forth a goal and accomplish it.

Who were you working with at ELDI?

Mary Hester. She’s amazing—very helpful and supportive.

What was she helping you with specifically?

This is a new process for me. I didn’t know anything about it, and a lot of things are in legal jargon you don’t understand. Mary basically helped me make sense of what I was looking at and guided me in the right direction. For example, I didn’t know much about the insurance process—who I should use, what I should look for, etc.—so she helped me with all of that.

At one point, I didn’t think I would ever get this far. I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, so this felt good.

What do you think of the neighborhood?

I love my neighborhood. I’ve always lived over on this side of town, so it’s not new, but I just loved the house when I got here—the neighborhood, the location, the house are all perfect.

What has been the most rewarding part of this process?

Of course, it was rewarding to finally close on the house, because that was the goal. Now, I’m a homeowner. It still hasn’t all sunk in, but that was the rewarding part right there. At one point, I didn’t think I would ever get this far. I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, so this felt good. I have children. They’ve watched me struggle, fight, and come back from the bottom. That’s rewarding.

Is there anything you’d like to say to someone looking to become a homeowner?

I would just say don’t give up, because you can do it. It takes a little bit of time and work, and a lot of sacrifice. I wasn’t out buying a bunch of new clothes and shoes, and I don’t own a car, because my goal was to get my house. So now my next goal is to get a car. I believe in the end it’s going to be worth it. It’s my house, and I own the property. It’s something that I can leave my children, or maybe it’s my first property. Perhaps I’ll own other properties, and this is my starter house, who knows? I would just say don’t give up—that’s all.

> Learn more about our Affordable Homeownership Opportunities Program.

> Read more homeownership stories.