If there’s anything we’ve come to realize at ELDI, it’s that homeownership is an ongoing journey. There is the journey to becoming a homeowner—which we’ve had the honor to help facilitate for many families—but there’s also the journey that continues after the keys are turned over, from getting settled within the community to unexpected repairs.

This month, we’re checking in with Gerald McClendon to hear how his homeownership journey is evolving. McClendon was ELDI’s first affordable for sale homebuyer in East Liberty’s Enright Court in June 2019, where he quickly became an integral member of the neighborhood. But after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease last year, he realized he would need to make some adjustments to his home. In our Q&A, Gerald shares how he worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) to have his home ADA (American Disabilities Act) modified as well as his reflections and advice for others who have a dream of homeownership.

Gerald McClendon outside of his newly ADA modified home

It’s been about three years since we last spoke. How have you settled into Enright Court?

Everything really worked out, and I settled in pretty well. Once I got in, the roof was leaking in two rooms, but the ELDI team was just amazing. Instead of patching it, they came right in and replaced the ceilings in the two bedrooms and fixed the roof. It looked like nothing ever happened. The work they have done on these townhomes in Enright Court is just great.

How do you like living in Enright Court?

It is the perfect spot for me. We have so many activities that go on throughout the year, and that’s one thing I really like about living here. It seems like everybody just gets along and looks out for one another. My neighbors are just wonderful. For example, I recently got together with my next-door neighbor Laura because there was a tree out front that we both agreed needed to be cut down, so we both pitched in and had it cut down.

Tell me about your path to getting your home ADA modified.

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease last year, and I was in the hospital all last summer. The disease started attacking my muscles, so I had to learn how to walk all over again. It was a horrible, long process, but the doctors assured me that if I did everything I was supposed to do, I would be up and walking—and even back on my bike—soon enough. That was hard to believe when I was lying in a hospital bed and couldn’t move, but they were right. Most of my time in the hospital was in physical therapy learning how to walk all over again, learning how to bathe myself, etc. But over a period of time, everything started to come back. I went from a wheelchair to a walker, from a walker to a cane, and now I don’t use anything. I got out of the hospital in August of last year, and when I got out, someone told me about the URA’s Home Accessibility Program for Independence, a program that could help me ADA modify my home. That was amazing to learn about, because I needed to have my bathtub taken out and a walk-in shower put in. So, I applied for the program and was accepted. They put a railing on the ramp in front of my house and removed my tub and put in a walk-in shower with grab bars. This is amazing, because I won’t have to worry about my home as I work on getting back to 100% or close to.

Having a home that I own during this period was such a relief, because I wouldn’t have even been able to leave the hospital otherwise. They wanted to make me go into a nursing home until I was able to walk, so if I hadn’t been able to have a chairlift installed in my place to get up and down the steps, I would have been stuck there.

Through the URA’s Home Accessibility Program for Independence Gerald was able to get a shower put in as well as railings on the ramp to his front door.

Do you have any other future goals or aspirations related to your home?

I applied for a 0% interest loan through the URA’s Homeowner Assistance Program so that I can make some more improvements, which was recently approved. I would like to get the basement completed, my yard fenced in, and put in a little patio in the backyard so I can sit out there and have my coffee. Now I’m looking for a contractor that can do those renovations. It’s a $35,000 loan, and the first $5,000 you don’t have to pay back. That’s one of the things that’s just amazing about owning a home—there are so many programs out there for people who just don’t make a lot of money.

What message would you have for other people considering homeownership?

They need to start the process. Don’t think that you can’t do it, because that’s what I thought. It’s a process. I had to clean up a couple of things with my credit, but it’s attainable. A lot of people stop themselves because they think they have to make this huge, insurmountable amount of money in order to be a homeowner, but you don’t, and programs like ELDI had for Enright Court or other places exist.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m the mission coordinator for East Liberty Presbyterian Church, so we help residents that may be struggling with rent, gas, medication, whatever it may be. I bring them in for an appointment to see if they meet our requirements for assistance, and we assist them. I also work part-time as a housing stabilization coordinator for the Bethlem Haven women’s homeless shelter.

That’s what I really like doing; giving back. I was doing this before my homeownership journey, but with all of the support I received from ELDI, Catapult, and others, it feels good to reach out and give back to the community in return. I even tell people about my homeownership journey. Hopefully, by doing so, I’ll encourage them. If I could do it, you can do it.

➡ If you’re interested in starting your homeownership journey, reach out to ELDI’s affordable homeownership specialist and founder of LifeVenture Real Estate Solutions Mary Hester at mary.hester@eastliberty.org.

➡ Support the women’s homeless shelter.