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Agape Homes CDC: Turning Renters Into Buyers

home under construction

Find out how Agape Homes CDC’s affordable housing initiative is helping a Houston neighborhood increase homeownership rates.

In January 2022, Agape Homes CDC opened its first eight affordable homes in the Greater OST/South Union area of Houston.

Agape Homes CDC is the homebuilding arm of Agape Development, a Christian ministry based in Houston that engages in an array of community development initiatives in the neighborhood. Agape Development provides after school programs for K-12 students, employment assistance for unemployed neighbors, and women’s fellowship for ladies in the community. Agape Homes CDC is dedicated to creating affordable communities without concentrating poverty.

As part of its ongoing mission to give back to Houston communities, Cadence Bank has provided a $3.5 million line of credit to Agape Homes CDC to fund its affordable housing initiative. In addition, homebuyers are eligible to receive $10,000 in down payment assistance from the bank when they close on a new home from Agape Homes CDC.

How Agape Homes CDC was formed

Anticipating rising housing prices, Agape Development purchased its first vacant lot in 2011 for $1 per square foot. Since then, Agape Development has developed an entire subsidiary of their organization focused exclusively on housing.

“The initiative started after we surveyed 200 community residents on how to improve quality of life in the neighborhood,” says Kirk Craig, CEO and cofounder of Agape Development. “One of the main areas we identified was creating more opportunities for homeownership.”

Agape Development knew that for homeownership rates to increase in the zip code, affordable, new housing would need to be built. “We ran the numbers and realized that if somebody didn’t jump in and start building affordable housing units, this goal that our neighbors had identified might not come to fruition,” Craig explains. “So over the last few years, we ramped up our purchasing of vacant lots and went to work on planning these new communities.”

Agape Homes CDC has been constructing homes in phases. To date, there are eight houses completed, with eight more ready to begin construction once final permits are approved. By the end of the 2023 calendar year, Agape Development plans to have 88 homes completed.

Agape Homes CDC consulted community members when designing the floor plans for the homes. Overwhelmly, residents called for open-concept, energy-efficient homes that could handle large family gatherings. All of the houses will also be designed to complement the current and historical architecture of the Greater OST/South Union neighborhood.

Partnering and responding to needs

Domingo Barrios serves as the emerging markets program manager for Cadence Bank. “From our first meeting with Agape, I was impressed by the caring attitude of its executives and staff, who live their mission every day,” says Barrios. “They are restoring the lives of numerous families in the Third Ward as they preserve homeownership for those with low-to-moderate incomes.”

Barrios says that forming partnerships is significant to Cadence. This is exhibited, he says, by Cadence’s executive leaders’ availability in engaging with partners, including Agape.

“Cadence’s executives accepted an invitation Craig extended to conduct a site visit to learn more about Agape,” says Barrios.

After learning about additional needs that Agape Development has, Cadence provided several personalized solutions that benefited Agape CDC, which included a line of credit to help Agape secure additional projects.

Helping community members at risk of displacement

The homes that Agape Homes CDC constructs are intended for families who are already living in the neighborhood. The organization is giving preference to applicants whose family income falls below 80% of the area median income (AMI).

Craig explains that low- and moderate-income families are at the highest risk of being priced out of the OST/South Union area. “We’re located close to downtown Houston, so house prices have risen dramatically over the past few years,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is preserve affordability for our neighbors who are a vital part of our community.”

“We want everyone in the community to know that they’re valued,” says Alexandria Hodge, development director at Agape Development. “The more people we can help stay within the neighborhood, the stronger we’ll be.”

In addition to the 80% AMI requirement, there are a few other qualifications that applicants need to meet. For example, applicants must:

  • Have a stable source of income
  • Not currently own a home
  • Complete 80 volunteer hours with Agape Development or a locally approved nonprofit

Hodge explains that the volunteering aspect encourages neighbors to become more active members of the community. “To us, this is about more than just building homes. It’s about building a neighborhood that people are excited to be a part of.”

If you can afford to rent, you can afford to buy

One of Agape Development’s main goals is helping turn local renters into homeowners. Craig believes that if you can afford to rent, you can afford to buy.

“There’s all kinds of barriers people have in their minds as to why they’re not ready to become homeowners,” says Craig. “At Agape, we encourage these individuals not to discount themselves before meeting with us, because there’s a lot of assistance we can provide along the way to help them qualify.”

Hodge adds, “It’s important to us that even applicants who don’t meet traditional mortgage requirements are able to go through the application process just like anyone else. This is where our education initiatives really come into play.”

Agape’s Homebuyer Training Program helps applicants increase their credit scores and develop the financial literacy needed to purchase a home. Applicants start off with a general orientation class that covers the requirements for buying a home from Agape Homes CDC. From there, they may work with a credit counselor or attend a HUD-certified first-time homebuyer class, depending on their needs.

“After a family actually purchases one of our homes, we provide them with a walkthrough to make sure they have everything they need,” says Craig. “We’ll point out things like where the air filters are and where the water shut off is. If someone’s been a renter all their life, there are a lot of aspects of home maintenance they might not be aware of.”

The significance of first-time homeownership

The hope is that the Agape Homes CDC program will have a lasting impact not only on the families that buy the homes, but for successive generations.

“When your family goes from never owning an asset like that to owning one, you can’t overstate the impact that can have,” says Craig. “It’s really transformative and can change how you see yourself in a powerful way.”

“By providing our neighbors with affordable, quality housing, we’re giving them something that can increase in value and grow with their family over the years,” says Hodge.

Agape Development and Cadence Bank share the common value of doing right by their communities. “The commitment to doing what’s right for our neighbors is definitely something that joins us together with Cadence Bank,” says Craig. “There’s a lot of synergy between our organizations, and we’re thankful for the support as we continue to build new homes and welcome new homeowners.”

To learn more about how Cadence Bank is helping people, companies and communities prosper, visit our Stories page.

 

This article is provided as a free service to you and is for general informational purposes only. Cadence Bank makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the content in the article. The article is not intended to provide legal, accounting or tax advice and should not be relied upon for such purposes.

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