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Dec 23, 2008
Social Services sponsored program helps make home ownership dreams a reality
The Robertson Family is truly “home” for the Holidays

Lakeshia Robertson (second from right) and her three children pose inside their East Baton Rouge Parish home. Mrs. Robertson was able to purchase the home with help from the Individual Development Account (IDA), a program to help first-time homebuyers save for a down payment.
Baton Rouge, La., December 23, 2008
It wasn’t too long ago that Lakeshia Robertson and her children were living like thousands of other families, paying rent each month for an apartment while hoping that one day she could have a home of her own.  After a divorce, dealing with the sound of gunshots at night outside her apartment and even an infestation of bats, Robertson was ready for a change and turned to a program funded through the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services for help to buy her first home.

The Robertson family will be celebrating this Christmas in their first home thanks to the Louisiana Asset-Building Initiative, an Individual Development Account (IDA) program led by the Department of Children & Family Services and managed by Southern University’s Center for Social Research.

“This program provides a unique opportunity for working families to become homeowners,” said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. “We know that helping families purchase a home helps to stabilize our communities, and the educational portion of the program can provide the tools people need to manage their finances and move out of poverty,” she said.

IDA programs offer matching funds to participants who save their own income, with the matching funds only made available for acquiring an asset such the purchase of a family’s first home or higher education expenses.  The Louisiana Asset-Building Initiative provides a $4 match for every dollar that a participant saves up to $1,000, for a possible match of $4,000.

“My goal when I started was to have a new home in two years, but I was able to do it in six months,” said Ms. Robertson. “For the first time, my children have their own rooms.  We have a yard, neighbors and other kids to play with.   I don’t need anything else for Christmas this year.  This is my present,” she said.
 
Home ownership seemed like an impossible dream as her mother had never owned her home and her financial standing was less than stellar.  

“I didn’t know anything about buying a home, but I was tired of renting,” said Ms. Robertson.  “I didn’t really think that I could do it.  But I found out about a first-time home buyers program through Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance and I started to believe that I could.”

Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance, located in Baton Rouge, is one of more than 40 local partners in the statewide IDA initiative that delivers valuable financial literacy and homebuyer trainings.  Once participants successfully complete each required training series, make any necessary credit repairs, meet their savings goal, and identify a first home to purchase, the IDA program provides up to $4,000 toward the down payment or closing costs.  Beyond the benefit of the matching funds, the IDA program helps Louisianans gain economic self-sufficiency by providing first-rate financial education and affecting positive financial behaviors such as budgeting and saving.

“It was difficult, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” Ms. Robertson continued.  “Because of the classes, I was able to put things into perspective.  I learned how to budget my money and I’m teaching my kids that lesson now, too.”

To be eligible to participate, a household must have at least one minor child, earn income from employment, and meet income eligibility guidelines, which are set at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below.  For example, a family of two may earn no more than $27,380 while the maximum is $42,300 for a family of four to be eligible for the program.

The goal of the program, financed this year with $1.5 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding, is to have 350 families purchase homes and to recruit 700 families to participate in the program by January 2009.  Since the program’s inception in January 2007, 811 participants have registered, and 136 have purchased homes.

U.S. home ownership rates average 69 percent according to most recent figures, however, less than half of African-American and Hispanic households own their own homes compared to nearly 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

“I worked with a lot of good people who stuck by me through this whole process,” continued Ms. Robertson.  “I cried when I signed the papers, and I cried when I got the keys.  I was so excited that first night that I came in and slept on the floor.  No furniture or anything.  I was so happy.”

So this year, in this season when so many return to family traditions and head home to celebrate, the Robertson family will be starting their own traditions with this first Christmas in their new home.

“Christmas is just a blessing for us this year because we’re at home…our home,” said Ms. Robertson.

For more information on the program, visit www.dss.state.la.us/ida.

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