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Why Houwzer launched this nonprofit fund for low-income, first-time homebuyers

Across Philadelphia, 10 $5,000 grants will be doled out, along with homeownership and homebuying education courses. The program will extend to more cities next year.

CEO Mike Maher (center) with Houwzer staff in early 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Technical.ly is one of 20+ news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice.

Tech-enabled real estate brokerage Houwzer this week launched the RiseUp Fund, a nonprofit to bring grants and resources to low- to moderate-income first-time homebuyers.

The Center City company’s new program comes amid a still-hot housing market and the recent re-up of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp.’s own $10,000 grant program for first-time homebuyers, Philly First Home.

The fund, which receives $100 from every Houwzer transaction, launched first in Philly, with plans to expand to Houwzer’s other markets, DC and Baltimore next year, and Florida in 2023. Recipients of RiseUp funds get $5,000 in grants for down payments or closing costs, and go through first-time buyer educational courses.

Those eligible are considered ALICE (asset limited, income constrained and employed), per United Way. These individuals and households are those least likely to grow generational wealth, a process the RiseUp fund is aiming to change. In Philadelphia, the median income for a family in these circumstances is between $31,000 and $84,000. These folks must have saved at least $3,000 but no more than $10,000 and have a minimum credit score of 620 to be eligible for the grant.

“As we continue to navigate one of the most difficult housing climates in history, Houwzer remains committed to leveling the playing field and assuring everyone has the opportunity to achieve the American dream of homeownership,” Mike Maher, Houwzer CEO said in a statement.

Our mission is to accelerate generational wealth of the underserved through homeownership.

So far, the fund has received applications from 53 people, 95% of which are people of color and 80% are single mothers, Suzanne Garber, the fund’s CEO, told Technical.ly. Garber and one colleague, Michael Gross, were hired to run the fund, which will select 10 applicants to receive $5,000 grants this year. Next year, it will doll out 20 grants across its other markets. Donations to directly cover extra costs for first-time homebuyers are also accepted.

In partnership with RiseUp, Houwzer is able to further offset closing costs through contributions or by reducing the company’s compensation. Recipients work with Houwzer’s agents at no cost, and receive all the home-searching and buying features as any other customer. The fund’s first recipient, a single mom in North Philly, purchased her first home in December with the grant, savings and some fee waivers by Houwzer, Garber said.

An essential part of the process is the homebuyer workshop taught by HUD-certified housing counselors, which teaches the ins and outs of home ownership and provides a mentor throughout the buying and ownership process. It means there’s someone there to help talk a homebuyer through the financial steps of ownership and help the first time the pipes freeze, Garber said — the small parts every home owner ends up dealing with.

“Homeownership has always been the clearest path to wealth in America, but systematically there’s been inequitable access to buying a home,” Garber said. “Our mission is to accelerate generational wealth of the underserved through homeownership. When our recipients close on their homes and are handed the keys, they’ve gained confidence, are more empowered, and have the knowledge and skills necessary to own and maintain a home for the long-term, passing on that asset to the next generations.”

Check out some other regional assistance programs for first-time homebuyers.

David Robinson, cofounder of Admiral Capital Group and former San Antonio Spurs player, chairs the board of the new organization. Philadelphians will spot some other familiar names on the new board, alongside Robinson and Maher:

  • Dr. Keith Leaphart — Founder of Philanthropi, chairman of Lenfest Foundation
  • Brian Murray — CEO of Shift Capital
  • David Robinson, Jr. — Director of placemaking at Weston Urban
  • Soneyet Muhammad — Chief of programs at Episcopal Community Services
  • Ben Pitts — Chief revenue officer at TIFIN Plan
  • Noelle St. Clair Lentz — SVP of impact investing at Woodforest National Bank
Companies: Houwzer
Series: Broke in Philly
People: Keith Leaphart / Michael Maher

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