HomeFirst Program Teaches Financial Literacy, Places Participants Closer to First-Time Homeownership

By Ashley Cunigan
CCBP Student Assistant

As an initiative of the Center for Community Based-Partnerships, HomeFirst serves Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa County individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership.

Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, leads a service-learning course to introduce students to effective strategies to promote financial and housing stability in the United States, emphasizing pathways to homeownership among low- to moderate-income populations. Susan Kasteler serves as the program coordinator responsible for service-learning. Students are trained to serve as financial coaches. Eleven student coaches and four student leaders joined the 2019 HomeFirst program and helped 75 participants with their financial plans.

The specially designed HomeFirst curriculum covers savings, money management, banking, credit building, debt reduction and homebuyer readiness. Student coaches met with participants over three months to guide them through the curriculum. The goal is to help participants identify the obstacles blocking their way to purchasing a home, and developing solutions.

Throughout the sessions, students connected with community partners willing to provide knowledge and resources for successful homeownership. Volunteer coaches not only gave assistance in Tuscaloosa, but they also traveled to Hale and Greene Counties. Residents in these smaller communities mentioned that they appreciated students reaching out and hoped the program would continue for years to come.

Anita Lewis, director of the Greene County Housing Authority, commented that smaller communities are often overlooked for potential homebuyers. “We see everyone around us growing. Our residents deserve a nice home. If we can help them step up, then we need to do everything we can.” The housing authority properties in Greene County give residents an opportunity to buy the house they are currently renting. The HomeFirst program helps these participants prepare for that process.

Participants in Hale County met at the Hale Empowerment Revitalization Organization (HERO) offices in Greensboro. Participant Deja Jackson stated the curriculum was “straight-forward and well-taught” and she has been able to track her spending due to her participation in the program. When asked about her experience working with a student, she stated, “It was a good experience.”

Student coach Arianne Esteve was able to help participants from all three counties. “It was cool to see different people at different stages. I worked with different participants weekly. This program shows that it is never too late to look at buying a house.”

HomeFirst coaches made efforts to help participants develop applicable savings plans, raise their credit scores and reduce debt. Participant Shikaishia Edwards said the most important thing she learned from HomeFirst is the importance of a credit score and how to raise it. “I didn’t know it was so important before,” said Edwards:” Since I came here, my credit score has jumped up 45 points.”

Ashley Adams, senior student in Human Resources Management, was a coach in last year’s HomeFirst program. “We [student coaches] are financially coaching people who haven’t been able to purchase a home step by step,” said Adams: “It [the program] has made a huge impact on me too.” Adams said she did not have an idea of how to make savings before but now, as she will start her job in a few months, she has a clear plan.

With the assistance of HomeFirst, coaches were trained to offer one-on-one support to their clients while developing a broad-based action plan for homebuying. Student coaches not only offered assistance for savings plans but were able to help participants at any step on their path toward housing stability.

At the conclusion of the semester, HomeFirst participants were awarded with certificates for their involvement in the fall 2019 cohort. Several student coaches mentioned that the program was a great learning experience for them to learn more about developing a financial plan. Ongoing coaching will be provided to participants during the spring and summer with plans for a new team of student coaches to begin coaching new participants next fall.