Homeownership can often seem like a lofty goal — for one day down the road, or maybe for someone else. But sometimes life can give you a push in the right direction. That was how it happened for Derek Darwin. Darwin, a Pittsburgh native and long-time Garfield resident, is a 44-year-old hydrant specialist for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and a little league football coach for the Garfield Gators. When his landlord told him that he wouldn’t be renewing his lease last December, he knew it was finally time to go after his dream of homeownership.

After searching on his own to no avail, he got in touch with ELDI’s affordable homeownership specialist and founder of LifeVenture Real Estate Solutions Mary Hester. Hester showed him a home ELDI was remodeling on Broad Street in Garfield as a part of our Garfield Affordable Homeownership Project and connected him to financial support. On October 14th, Darwin closed on his home, achieving his goal of creating equity and generational wealth for his family.

Find out how Darwin did it in our Q&A with him below.

ELDI’s affordable homeownership specialist Mary Hester showing Derek Darwin his new home in Garfield.

When did you start thinking about pursuing homeownership?

I’ve been wanting to own my own home, but when my landlord sold the house I was renting, it stepped up the process. So, in January, I started looking anywhere and everywhere. I was desperate. I was going to move out of Pittsburgh. Then, around February, I called Rick Swartz [executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation], and he led me to Mary Hester. At the time, two of my children and I were displaced. I had to move out of my rental, and I was staying with my brother. From the first phone call with Mary, she got the ball rolling.

What were the first steps in the process once you were connected?

Mary showed me this place on Broad Street maybe a week later, but it was still getting worked on. She showed me another place too, but this one was closer to my work and where I coach in Garfield. It’s fully remodeled and has enough space for me and my children, so it was perfect. After that, we just kept in touch. I was getting a little depressed because of my living situation, but she kept my spirits up until the house was finished. And when it was finished, we put the gas on the process.

What did you have to do to prepare for being homeowner?

My savings account was already in pretty good shape, and my credit, though it wasn’t excellent, was good enough that I didn’t really have to work on it. However, I did take some online homeownership training, which taught me about the responsibilities of being a homeowner and saving.

Did you receive any down payment or closing costs assistance?

Yes, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh helped me out a lot with a loan of $30,000 and around $7,500 for my closing costs.

Were you aware of those avenues of help before you got connected to Mary?

No, I wasn’t. Mary was great. She did all of the legwork. I didn’t know anything about homeownership. As I said, my landlord gave me a month’s notice that he was selling the house, and I just didn’t want to get into that process again of leaving on someone else’s terms. I was at that house for 10 years. He told me in December around Christmas time. So, I went from Christmas to leaving my house on January 1st. It was a blessing in disguise, I guess. I’d probably still be there not owning a home, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Is homeownership common in your family?

My mother never owned a house. My father owned his home, but he probably only owned it for about three years, and when he passed away, we lost his home. I’m the first of my mother’s and father’s kids to own a home.

Derek’s homeownership journey, captured on video by LifeVenture Real Estate Solutions.

How do you like living in the Garfield/East Liberty area?

Since I was a teenager, the neighborhood has changed a lot. It’s a beautiful neighborhood. A lot of the homes are getting remodeled—it’s just a blessing. Since I coach and do my community service up here, it’s just perfect. It’s a dream come true. In the 90s this was a different place, a dangerous neighborhood. Now, I can leave my door open.

What would you say to anyone thinking about pursuing homeownership?

I think everybody should pursue it. It comes with responsibility. If something goes wrong, it is your responsibility to fix it, but just having the stability of knowing that it is yours and that no one can kick you out is everything. I would tell everybody to pursue it, or at least try.

What would you say was the most challenging and rewarding part of the process for you?

The most challenging part of the process was the wait, knowing my situation, that I didn’t have a place for me and my kids. I drove past the house a lot, and just seeing it, you know, that was the hard part. The closing was the best part. The reward was getting the keys.

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