The program, which is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and recognized by the city and state, got a boost from a $350,000 federal grant announced last week by U.S. Rep. Brendan F. Boyle.
The Urban League is a nonprofit group that offers education, training, entrepreneurship, housing, and wellness programs to underserved communities.
The grant came from Community Project Funding program created by Congress this year that allows its members to request and support funding for nonprofit groups that are in their districts, Boyle said.
“One of the main ways we can lift people from lower income to the middle class is through homeownership,” Boyle said. “I think is also creates more stable neighborhoods. I’m glad I could get help from Washington, D.C. to bring those funds.”
Andrea Custis, Urban League President and CEO, said about 70 people at attended one of their first time homebuyer sessions in north Philadelphia, last week.
“More and more people are showing an interest in buying a home,” Custis said. “We should feel good about that because that’s how people in Black and brown communities can build intergenerational wealth. The more funding we get the bigger impact we can have.”
The Urban League’s housing counselors provide intensive one-on-one sessions for first time homebuyers, she said.
“We know what the banks and looking for and we know what the loan officers are looking for,” Custis said. “By the time that we finish with an individual that checklist that the mortgage loan officer has, it hits those spots. That’s how our individuals are able to get mortgages.”
Typically, the counselors also seek out government programs, along with financial institutions that offer settlement money for first-time homebuyers, sometimes as much as $10,000. The federal grant money will also allow the Urban League to add its own money to the settlement pot for first-time homeowners, Custis said.
The Urban League housing counseling program also helps existing homeowners prevent evictions and foreclosures by teaching financial literacy.
During the COVID pandemic, more than 21,000 city residents mostly in Black and brown neighborhoods, were able to avoid evictions because of a series of city, state and federal moratoriums, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
The last of those moratoriums expired in December
“We know that many people lost their jobs during COVID and they need help,” Custis said. “Many people out there did not do anything wrong but they lost their jobs and they couldn’t keep up with their rent or mortgage.”
Urban League housing counselors will walk them through the process if foreclosure or eviction is already a reality and even accompany them to court, if necessary.
“We will be there for you and help you get through that process,” Custis said.
Among the other services the housing counselors offer is help with outstanding utility bills. It also provides help to people with tangled titles, where a person may live in the home and have a right to it, but the deed isn’t in their name, or is in the names of a deceased relative, for example.
The Urban League has five upcoming initial housing sessions on June 25th, July 9th, July 16th, July 23rd and July 30th. For more information, please call 215-985-3220, ext. 235 or email: [email protected].
In 2018, the Urban League helped about 3,000 families and helped about 70 families become homeowners, for a total market value of $4 million. It helped to prevent more than 100 foreclosures, sparing neighborhoods from blight and declining property values, which often accompany foreclosures.
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.