Homeownership is a bedrock of healthy, thriving communities. Census data shows that neighborhoods with higher rates of housing stability can lead to more community cohesion and increased participation in community organizations, among other benefits. Homeownership is also an essential step toward building generational wealth, especially for Black families who have historically been excluded from homeownership and wealth building.
That’s exactly why ELDI launched its Affordable Homeownership Opportunities program in 2017 to help turn our renting residents into homeowners. The program allows residents renting from us to work with us and our partners to purchase the homes they are already living in. Sierra Parm is one of those residents. An Ohio native who moved to Pittsburgh ten years ago, she has been renting in East Liberty’s Enright Court for six of those years. When she heard about the program, she reached out and began working with ELDI, Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, and affordable homeownership specialist Mary Hester to save, improve her credit, and eventually close on her home in August of this year. Parm’s inspiring journey proves that, with dedication and the right education and support, homeownership can be attainable for all.
Find out how she did it in our Q&A below.
Where are you from and what do you do for a living?
I am originally from Youngstown, Ohio. I moved to Pittsburgh about 10 years ago. Most of my mother’s side of the family is from Pittsburgh, so after college, I eventually moved here to be closer to that side of my family and to help out my mom. I was a political science major and originally started out working on campaigns and volunteering. Like many millennials, I worked on the Obama campaign. Then I worked in administration for Family Resources, and through my volunteering endeavors, I met my current boss who is a county councilman. He offered me an operations director position at the A. Phillip Randolph Institute. We do workforce development, connecting individuals all over Allegheny County to the building and construction trades as well as manufacturing and energy sector jobs through an eight-week training course that helps them build their skills and get the certifications they need to be competitive for those positions.
When did you decide that you wanted to start pursuing homeownership?
I started this journey about three, maybe four, years ago, realizing that I wanted a little more stability in my life. I wanted a wealth-building opportunity. Hopefully, I will have a family someday in the future and be able to pass it on to someone else. I also realized the importance of homeownership to the community as a whole, because communities are more stable when there’s a greater amount of homeownership. It was a long journey, but it was definitely worth it. I learned a lot about being better in control of my money—it made me rethink how I handle money and what it can do for me. The experience of moving towards homeownership has been invaluable for that reason.
You are involved with the Enright Court Neighborhood Association. Can you tell us about that?
There are monthly meetings which I help facilitate, monthly volunteer meetings, and then we also meet separately with ELDI if there is an issue. Over the last four years, I’ve seen ELDI, the neighbors, and everyone come together to make some really impressive changes—in the culture of the Court, in the environment, and then also in empowering people to take control of their neighborhood. We’ve hosted many events and have another one coming up here in October for the kids for Halloween. It’s been nice to come together as a community, pull resources, and be able to do stuff for each other.
What were some of the tangible changes in Enright Court that resulted from this neighborhood engagement?
We’ve seen several houses repaired through that process as well as some beautification projects, like the gate at the front of the Court, planting flowers, and putting out pumpkins, things of that nature. ELDI is currently working on making the gates and grading on the Broad Street side of the Court uniform. But I think the greatest tangible thing has been the community meetings themselves. At one point, we were getting around 25 to 30 people coming on Monday nights—and that’s pretty significant, especially for a small community. It’s been great to see how much outpouring and interest there is from the neighbors in making a change.
“I think one of the things that ELDI did a really great job of was empowering residents to feel like they are a little bit more in control of their community and giving them the tools to community build on their own.”
How did you work with Catapult during your homeownership journey?
I worked with Tammy Thompson, executive director of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, when it was still Circles Greater Pittsburgh. She first talked to me about my personal finances. Then, when I was going through the homeownership process, I went back to Catapult and took their homeownership course.
What did you learn through the course?
The first-time homebuyer course is designed to teach you the process of buying a home. I also learned a few pieces of financial information that I found really valuable, like readjusting my budget, how to handle student loans, etc. It was a very useful course. It made me feel a lot more comfortable as I went through the home-buying journey, because I knew what was going to come next.
You closed on your home on August 25th. Congratulations! How does it feel now that it’s yours?
Quite honestly, it’s just brought so much peace to my life, knowing that it’s a permanent place versus a rental. It’s also brought a lot of joy because I’m like looking around the house like, “I can do this. I can do that.” I can change it, customize it, and make it more my own. So, it’s been really exciting at the same time.
How do you feel about living in East Liberty?
I’m excited to be in East Liberty. I’ve enjoyed living here for the last six years. There’s so much to do—there are always new restaurants, and it’s so convenient to be able to walk everywhere. I rarely ever use my car. There’s also a diverse group of people and a diverse group of mindsets. It’s interesting to be able to go over to Galley and just sit down and talk to people. I find it to be an enriching experience, and I think it’s only going to get better as they continue with more of the construction that’s happening.
What would you say was the most challenging and most rewarding part of the homeownership journey for you?
Disciplining myself enough to save for the down payment and closing costs was the hardest part. Telling myself no when I wanted Starbucks or other little things that were going to take away from me being able to buy my home. But I think that was also the most rewarding part, just showing I can do this. I can sit down every day, make a plan, execute it, and get myself from point A to point B to reach that goal. I did receive some help with the down payment and closing costs, so I ultimately didn’t have to use as much of my savings as I thought. I ended up being able to purchase the home and have a nest egg for a rainy day.
Do you have any advice for anyone else considering homeownership?
I would say that if you are considering homeownership, you definitely want to make sure that you are emotionally, mentally, and even physically in a space where you can do that.
“It takes a lot of discipline. It takes a lot of dedication to the process, but the reward and payoff of having your own space, having your own home, is well worth it. Knowing that you’ve built wealth and put in that work is well worth it.”
Be prepared to have days where you’re a little bit unsure of yourself, where you’re a little bit frightened, but also be prepared to have days where you have that wonderful feeling of, “Yes, I’m doing this. I got it. I’m on my way to building wealth.” The feeling of getting there will outweigh all the anxiety you might feel.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think that ELDI did a great job and has been doing a great job of helping folks who look like me be able to afford to live and stay in East Liberty—and I think that’s incredibly important and invaluable work for the community.