Whoneta Dinkins wanted to buy a home, but often found herself struggling to make ends meet as a single mother with three children.
This month, Ms. Dinkins' dream came true when she made a down payment on a rehabilitated house on East Park Street, a payment she made through a specialized savings plan that organizers hope will help more low and moderate-income families become homeowners.
A small army of officials from public and nonprofit agencies gathered in Ms. Dinkins' backyard yesterday to celebrate her accomplishment as the first graduate of the Northwest Ohio Development Agency's Individual Development Account program.
Lagrange Development Corp. rehabilitated the home. Along with the agency, Neighborhood Housing services provided financial training and counseling. Fifth Third Bank established a bank account for her.
The Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority arranged for Ms. Dinkins to use her U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 subsidy to buy the home, providing the final piece to the puzzle.
Tiffany Zinn, vice president and chief operating officer of the agency, said the collaboration of that small army enabled Ms. Dinkins to move in with her daughters, Synquios, 14, Maryah, 12, and Malaja, 7.
“It takes a collaboration like this to get things like this done,” Mrs. Zinn said. “In a lot of federal programs, you're penalized for saving and gaining assets, so you don't have an incentive to do so. In this program, you're not [penalized] so you can save and not have to be worried about being taken out of the program.”
The drawing card to the account program is that participants receive $2 for every $1 they put into the savings account.
Ms. Dinkins, who works at NFO Research in Northwood, said she heard of the program from another housing program's newsletter and thought, “What's the catch?”
“I thought I would have to go through a lot more than what I did,” Ms. Dinkins said. “It's a challenging program, but you can get through it. You've got to stick with it because the award is too high at the end.”
To qualify for the IDA program, participants' income must not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which for a family of four is $36,800. In addition, participants must live in Lucas County, save at least $25 a month, and remain in the program for at least one year.
Some praised Ms. Dinkins for sticking with the program and setting goals.
Jeff Rhodes, director of programs and leasing with the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, said he wants to use Ms. Dinkins as an example to other LMHA residents.
“From what I understand, you came a long way [in the program],” Mr. Rhodes told Ms. Dinkins during a news conference on her new back porch. “This is a program where we've cut out the middle man, the landlord. We want to use you as a model for our programs.”
Katherine Broka said the financial classes, tutoring, and counseling required with the program hopefully will make for a better homeowner who has the skills to keep up with the financial responsibilities.
She said there are plans to expand the IDA program to include more people and extend it to low-income high school students who want to save money for college.
Mrs. Zinn said 77 people are taking part in account program classes now.
Participants can use their savings to purchase or improve a home, a college education, to start a small business, or for dealing with predatory lenders.
She said most of the current participants are saving money to buy a home or to make major improvements on a home they already own.