Joan King’s first idea of homeownership came straight from the traditional script: marry a man, settle down, buy a house.
“I was raised at a time when the assumption was that I would have a husband with money, and we would have a house together. The specifics of that were vague, but that’s what women did.”
However, as King shared, “That’s not how it turned out.”
Instead, at the age of 65 and with a limited, fixed income, she now is the proud owner of a two-bedroom, one bath home in East Liberty’s central Enright Court.
King’s journey to homeownership was anything but conventional, but with a lot of dedication—and some help from ELDI, LifeVenture Real Estate Solutions, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP), and First Commonwealth Bank—she was able to realize her dream.
It all started a few years back when King was living in an apartment in Wilkinsburg and she found out that her landlady would be retiring and selling the property.
“I knew from friends who were in that situation a few years ago that buying was cheaper than renting, and one of those friends is in the same fixed income boat that I am in,” King explained. “Unfortunately, I did not come to this realization until the housing market went crazy.”
Guiding individuals on the path to homeownership
After an unsuccessful search with a realtor, she heard about ELDI’s Affordable Homeownership Opportunities program in early 2021 and got in touch with our affordable homeownership consultant, founder of LifeVenture Real Estate Solutions, Mary Hester.
“She was looking for something affordable and rode past a unit in Enright Court. We toured the property, and she loved it,” Hester explained. “It’s right on East Liberty Boulevard and has a private backyard with a fence—it was everything she needed.”
As a senior with MS, King also appreciated that the home was modern, compact, and didn’t have any stairs leading up to the front door.
“This makes a huge difference for me in terms of my disability,” King noted.
Once King was sold on the house, Hester referred her to First Commonwealth Bank for mortgage pre-approval. King had good credit, so she was approved right away. However, with a very low income, she was only approved for a fraction of the home’s purchase price.
“That meant a lot of subsidy would need to be obtained in order for her to be able to bridge the gap,” said Hester.
At that point in the process, Hester referred King to the URA and they began searching for possible funding sources. Meanwhile, King was staying with friends, which eventually began to wear on her.
“What was very difficult for me at that point was being in limbo and making the decision to not pursue some other avenue,” King explained.
That patience would pay off. In the end, the URA and HACP were able to secure enough grants and subsidies to help King close the gap. She also received a $7,500 grant for closing and down payment costs from Catapult Greater Pittsburgh’s Next Steps Fund.
As a result, she did not have to clean out her 401k and her monthly mortgage payment is less than she was paying at her previous apartment. Even with future tax reappraisals considered, her monthly payment should not go above the maximum that she can afford with her income.
“I was in shock. It really is a huge blessing, and I’m still like ‘Why me?’” King said.
As a part of the program, King was required to take homeownership courses to prepare her for being a first-time homeowner. The courses covered topics like understanding mortgage payments and costs, homeowners’ insurance, home inspections, and more.
King closed on her home on March 11, 2022. It was a joyful day, with many of the partners who helped her get there in attendance.
“HACP is pleased to have been able to support Ms. King in her efforts to attain the dream of homeownership. We look forward to continuing our work with the URA and partner organizations like ELDI to further expand homeownership opportunities for working class Pittsburgh residents,” said Caster D. Binion, executive director of HACP.
The URA’s homeownership manager Alicia Majors echoed the sentiment, saying, “It’s because of the successful collaboration with mission-aligned organizations like Catapult, ELDI, and HACP, that Ms. King and other city residents are becoming first-time homeowners. We look forward to continuing these partnerships to help more city residents find an affordable home that they can be proud of.”
Making her home a home
As Joan settles into her new home, she is looking forward to transforming her side yard into a permaculture garden, filling it with native dye plants, a personal passion of hers.
“I’m really excited, because all of my life I’ve looked at designing a space, and now, here’s the space,” she shared.
To get more involved with the community, she’s also looking forward to volunteering with the Kingsley Association which is right across the street. And with a location in the heart of it all, several friends have already stopped by to say hi on their way to the Home Depot nearby.
Hester hopes that King’s story can serve as an example to others.
“If anyone wants to be a homeowner and build generational wealth, as Joan shows us, there’s no age or timeframe that can prevent you from doing this. If she can do it, anyone can do it.”