For the first time ever, Veronica Brandon’s three teenagers each have their own rooms.
As a single mother earning $57,000 a year, Brandon thought it would be at least two more decades before she would be able to own her own home. An economic opportunity policy specialist for Washtenaw County’s Office of Community and Economic Development, she and her children had been living in supportive housing provided by Avalon Housing since 2005.
“There’s no way I would be able to save for a down payment or closing costs,” she says. Yet in January, her dream became a reality when she closed on a new $300,000 four-bedroom home in Superior Township. It was made possible by a mortgage through the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA).
The Boston-based nonprofit helps people with low-to-moderate incomes become homeowners. Brandon’s thirty-year mortgage, written before the Fed raised rates, carries an ultra-low rate of 1.875 percent. There was no credit check, mortgage insurance wasn’t required, and the closing costs were covered by a $5 billion grant from the Bank of America. The down payment was folded into the loan balance.
Brian Chambers read about Brandon’s experience in an Avalon Housing blog and wondered, “Why don’t more people take advantage of that in the Ann Arbor area? It’s too good a thing to pass up.” He doesn’t need NACA’s help himself—he works for Dassault Systèmes, an international software company—but says he wants to give back to his community and help ensure that his children, in their twenties, can afford to live here.
Analyzing data from the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey, Chambers found that between 2010 and 2019, the portion of Ann Arbor homeowners earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually fell by a third. He reached out to NACA—which gave his analysis a stamp of approval—and now he’s helping Washington Ryles, a regional director of NACA based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to get the word out.
Any household earning less than the area’s median annual income can qualify for a NACA mortgage. In Washtenaw County, Chambers points out, that can be as much as $106,000 per year for a family of four.
Bank of America and NACA just announced an expansion of the program with a goal of $15 billion in mortgages to these homebuyers through May 2027. Yet according to Ryles—himself a Pioneer High grad—only 405 households in Washtenaw County purchased homes through the program since 2015. That’s “minimal, to say the least,” he says. “There are a number of households that can benefit from NACA and should be doing so.”
Even without down payments, Ryles says that fewer than 1 percent of borrowers default. NACA provides counseling on what it takes to be a homeowner, including budgeting and how to save, and ensures that buyers can afford the payment out of their net income.
Chambers approached numerous members of the community about NACA, including city council member Kathy Griswold. “It seems like a wonderful program,” she says. “I was excited to hear about it.” She’s introduced a resolution directing the city to provide information on NACA’s services to employees and residents.
City administrator Milton Dohoney Jr. emails that developing the capacity to increase home ownership will strengthen the city. “Tools like this that remove barriers can help improve personal and family wealth-building,” he writes. “To me, that is positive.” Mayor Christopher Taylor said he’s excited to bring the resolution forward after getting “the benefit of staff expertise on the question.”
Chambers wants other large local employers, including the University of Michigan, to spread the word about NACA to their employees and union members. John Mirsky, chair of the city’s energy commission, points out that before the pandemic, 84,000 people commuted in and out of Ann Arbor every day. “From just a congestion point of view, from greenhouse gases and emissions from those cars, that’s a huge burden on the city,” he says. He adds that while the city plans to build 2,800 new affordable housing units by 2035, that won’t help those earning 60 to 120 percent of the area median income.
Mirsky worked with Griswold on the resolution, and the energy commission has already endorsed it. But Rick Fitzgerald, the university’s associate VP for public affairs, emails that “It’s not the university’s normal practice to actively promote community programs and resources and we are not able to do so in this instance.”
Griswold says she plans to introduce another resolution that would direct the city administrator to have elected officials meet with the university to discuss opportunities to provide net-zero-energy workforce housing on U-M properties and elsewhere in the city. It has the support of the city’s environmental and energy commissions and will likely be considered by city council this month.
Taylor says the university’s expansion has “had a very direct effect on the housing market in Ann Arbor.” He adds,” We need more housing. Students need more housing. The university is in a position to provide that housing.”
But Fitzgerald emails that the university’s focus will remain on meeting the increasing demand for on-campus student housing that complements its educational mission. He points to a decision in February by the board of regents to approve a project for North Campus that will replace the 500-bed Northwood II complex with dorms containing a total of 1,200 beds. Fitzgerald adds that the university also is in the early stages of developing a new comprehensive master plan that will more clearly lay out the possible future uses of campus property that can sustain future development.
State senator Jeff Irwin said the issue of housing affordability is among his highest priorities. He says there’s been “tremendous pressure on working people in Washtenaw County … And now the heat has been turned up even higher, with more folks being pushed farther away.
“We have a lot of folks out there who are hardworking people, playing by the rules and working full time. These people are good investments” and will meet their obligations, he says. He’s pushing for federal support, ensuring allocation of American Rescue Plan dollars toward affordable housing.
Teresa Gillotti, director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, calls NACA “an excellent product,” but adds that it doesn’t solve the problem of being able to afford a home in Ann Arbor. Gillotti points out that Brandon wanted to purchase a home in Ann Arbor but was unable to do so. Brandon confirms that was true.
“We need more if we’re trying to support homeownership in high market communities,” Gillotti says, suggesting the addition of more units like condos, duplexes, or triplexes. “Different products that are cheaper than your average single-family home would be helpful.”
Taylor agrees that NACA isn’t a panacea. “We need a multi-pronged approach to improve housing attainability in the city. This is one tool.”
But for Brandon, whose job it is to help women and people of color achieve economic opportunity, NACA has finally enabled her to experience what that feels like.
“I have the opportunity to build wealth because I own a property,” she says. “It’s like freedom.”