A home for sale in the Dignowity Hill neighborhood. Photo by Scott Ball.
Hispanic families are purchasing homes at rates faster than other minority demographics. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I just bought a house.

I’m not the type to get too excited about milestones in life. They usually come with due expenses, and at each new stage there is always a lingering longing for what was left behind and the promise of what will now be required in effort and responsibility. Nevertheless, I am currently counting my blessings for an economic advantage I was given by a local organization called the Alamo Community Group.

The nonprofit housing organization’s NeighborhoodLIFT program offers $15,000 to help people with moderate incomes, at or below 120% of the median income of San Antonio, make a down payment on a house that is within the designated area shown in the map below.

The funds are technically a loan, but the organization forgives 20% of the loan each year for five years. So after five years of living in your home without leasing it out, the loan is forgiven. The program is for people who want to make a commitment to improving a San Antonio neighborhood – not savvy house flippers.

NeighborhoodLIFT program map includes pretty much anywhere in San Antonio.
NeighborhoodLIFT program map includes pretty much anywhere in San Antonio.

I am a young professional nursing all the financial wounds of a graduate degree. That statement might sound dramatic, but let’s just say, I will be paying for that personal-growth experience for a long time. Student loans have a higher interest rate than mortgages these days, and the price of a reputable education is ever-increasing. It is just a matter of course for middle-class people to live their adult years paying for the credentials of their livelihood, so that they may achieve a debt-free status by the time they reach retirement age with no retirement in sight, just arriving back to zero.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for this first-world lifestyle, but I can’t help but to think that we could evolve into some more equitable economic situation. Regardless, most of us willingly run in this rat-race to some degree to get to that elusive, next level. Buying this home is the next level for me.

Owning assets is critical in your economic portfolio, so that when you finally “figure it out,” and want to start your big venture, you will have something to barrow against. I have been renting since I left my family’s home in 2000. That is 15 years of paying rent that could amount to as much as $150,000 that I paid to various landlords across the country. It is hard to justify trying to buy a house if you are on the move like I was for those 15 years. Like all “enlightened” people of my generation say, “I have no regrets.” Those transient years brought me all kinds of wisdom and adventure, so the cost is subjectively qualified as justifiable.

However, I am settling down now. The housing market in San Antonio is really hot. Fixer-uppers are flipping like hot cakes and people are biting on all kinds of deals knowing that this rapid inflation will not stop anytime soon. A house is on the market for maybe two weeks before it is purchased above asking price, especially if you are looking in the trending areas. Many times a for-sale sign never even goes up in the yard because someone has the inside scoop.

For me, the process of buying a house with NeighborhoodLIFT funds started like this: My good-looking friend, Jeff, told me about the Alamo Community Group and its Neighborhood Lift program. I said, “What?” He said, “Yeah, it worked for me, it could work for you.”

I contacted one of the approved lenders listed on the website. I told them that I wanted to get pre-approved for a conventional home loan, and that I wanted to apply for the neighborhood lift program. I was pre-approved based on a positive credit check, employment, rental history, etc.

Once pre-approved for a loan you are required to get a contract on a house before you can even apply for the Neighborhood Lift funds. This can be challenging because you are counting on a down-payment that you don’t even have yet while you are negotiating your deal. It will require a 45-day closing period and that is too long for some hasty sellers. It took several months to find the right property, and I missed out on some really cool houses because I didn’t have cash to put down. The market is competitive right now for sure. Another challenge is that for a conventional loan the house must be in “livable” condition based on the auditor’s assessment, so fixer-uppers can only be in a certain level of disrepair.

I wouldn’t have been able to find my house without a talented realtor. It is exhausting when you work full-time to shop for a house. I worked with Ruby Casteel, and she is brilliant. She made things a lot easier on me because she knew the ins and outs of home buying. It was a great education for me. Many first time home buyers don’t realize that the seller pays the realtor, so as a buyer you have no risk in using a realtor. Elijah Echeveste is another great realtor I’ve encountered. Whoever you choose, you will likely develop a strong relationship because you have to really push them to keep working for you to find the house you want. It can be really fun and really frustrating.

Once an interested buyer gets a contract on a house, they can return to the Neighborhood Lift website and follow the steps to input that they have completed the two requirements: get pre-approved by an approved lender and get a contract on a property. Then the process officially begins. Buyers have to take an online “Homeowners Education” course that is really straight forward, but it does cost $100. Once completed, you’re good to go. There are more documents to file and requests for information to comply with, but just go with the flow and you should be fine.

Now, I live in my very first home. It is a great feeling. I wrote a song about settling down called, “Local Mind.” I’m making friends with my neighbors and trying to be a good neighbor. I jokingly refer to my new neighborhood as “Almost Park.” It’s the area near the Olmos Drive H-E-B grocery store between San Pedro and McCullough avenues. My band RANCH\HOUSE is performing at The Olmos Pharmacy down the street on Aug. 22 at 9 p.m. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Things are good. I have a lot of chores to do, but thanks to the Neighborhood Lift program and the Alamo Community Group I have a little extra money each month to make improvements on the house. I want to lift up my new neighborhood. This is a great investment in San Antonio neighborhoods, and I feel very fortunate to receive a little assistance. I guess you can catch a break now and then, if you are looking for it.

A representation of the neighborhood near Kenwood Park. Courtesy Photo.
A representation of the neighborhood near Kenwood Park. Courtesy Photo.

Related Stories:

Rise of The 18-Hour City and Other Real Estate Trends

Teaching Realtors How to Sell History

Immigrating to Dignowity Hill: Empty Lots, Fixer-Uppers, and The Perfect Fit

St. Benedict’s Lofts Offers Units For Sale

S. Brady Dietert is an Architect at Overland Partners. He enjoys making San Antonio his home by participating in local organizations and events. He is also a songwriter that performs in a local band called...