Tracie Curry invited her pastor and a Brightmoor neighbor over on the October day she finally signed the paperwork to close on her house.
She needed her support team, she said – the people who have gotten her through 18 years of waiting to be a homeowner.
“It felt so awesome, it felt great,” Curry said of closing on the three-bedroom house she’s rented for so many years. “It felt good to sign something that is my own.”
Curry is one of 16 Brightmoor residents living in houses built by Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development who joined a pilot program to buy their low-income rental homes.
But as BridgeDetroit reported in October, Curry and others continued to pay rent long after they expected to own their houses and for years after the pilot program began.
“I hope no one will have to go through the ups and downs I went through,” said Curry, who wants to remodel her bathroom, repaint walls and fix a water leak in the basement. She’s already bought a new leather couch to commemorate the milestone.
In addition to Curry, one other tenant closed the last week of October, Detroit officials confirmed, while a third closed the first week of November.
Still, two more renters continue to wait for their deeds – one elected not to close while waiting for NDND to make repairs on the home, the city said, while another is expected to close later this month, after NDND pays a lien that was on the property. When those sales are completed, it will mark the end of a yearslong saga that kept renters on edge about when they would finally be able to own the houses they’d long thought of as theirs.
But the closure for Curry and others doesn’t spell the end for everyone. Karla Davis, the friend who witnessed Curry close, also hoped to buy her NDND home. But when she expressed interest to the city, the program wasn’t accepting any more participants. There’s no guarantee that she’ll ever have the chance to buy.
Davis said she cried tears of joy watching Curry become a homeowner. It further strengthened her resolve that she will get there, too.
“This is my turn next,” she said. “You have to fight for your homes. That’s what you gotta do and that’s what I will continue doing, fighting for your home. It’s well overdue.”
John O’Brien, the president of NDND’s board of directors, said he intends to sell more of the 231 Brightmoor homes his organization built beginning in 1999. But he has no timeline for doing so and said the terms of the pilot – which included the city of Detroit covering closing costs for tenants who thought they were entering a rent-to-own program – wouldn’t be repeated.
The Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which administers a low-income housing tax credit program that helped fund some of the construction, said purchase agreements for 2023 have a listed sales price of $46,875 for the homes.
“It’s largely going to be driven by people’s ability to get financing and meet the requirements of lenders,” O’Brien said of any new buyers. “The qualifications mostly come from the lenders.”
O’Brien said previously that NDND needed to continue to own a portion of the homes to have enough rent coming in to be able to maintain them. He said NDND is making progress on needed repairs.
Davis, who pays $840 a month in rent and receives housing assistance, said a city official told her O’Brien was under no obligation to sell the houses if he didn’t want to. While NDND received more than $2.1 million in low-income housing tax credits for its first three construction phases, its decision to opt into a program that allowed the sale of rental homes to tenants after 15 years, if they were interested in buying them, didn’t require any sales. If the homes couldn’t be sold, per the agreement, they would continue to be rentals.
Davis said she intends to keep the pressure on O’Brien and his organization to urge him to give her and other renters who moved to the neighborhood anticipating ownership a chance to close themselves.
“If I have to bug him every day and get on his nerves, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
Curry, the new homeowner, said she hopes friends like Davis get the same opportunity to experience the joy that she did when the deed was finally hers.
“Every day, my prayers were to have the home and make it mine,” she said. “I just thank God. I just hope they give people their homes. … I’ll keep praying for them.”