It takes a village: Partnership helps make homeownership attainable, sustainable

April 07, 2022
Radious Walker and her children in front of their new home in Lincoln, Nebraska.

NeighborWorks and U.S. Bank work together to help Nebraskans become mortgage ready.

For Radious Walker, a special education coordinator in Lincoln, Nebraska, the journey to homeownership started with a dream of a yard for her two children.

“My mom lived in a duplex for 18 years, and we didn’t have a one,” Walker shared. “Because I was renting an apartment, my kids didn’t either. So, instead of renting and worrying about rent increases, I was going to look at buying a home.”

It was a suggestion from her mother that took her to NeighborWorks Lincoln, a community organization that facilitates the homebuying process and partners with U.S. Bank to assist those with low- to moderate-incomes become mortgage ready. Walker qualified for NeighborWorks’ homeownership program, which ultimately brought her to Susan Grieger. A now retired U.S. Bank mortgage loan originator (MLO), Grieger worked with NeighborWorks for 18 years to help buyers become mortgage ready.

“When you have a family who is dedicated and committed to buying a home, that home becomes your dream,” Grieger said. “In some instances, I started working with people two or three years before they were ready to buy house – some had difficulties repairing their credit, others maybe bounced around on jobs or had a difficult time saving up that first $1,000 that the NeighborWorks program requires.”

Mainly using the American Dream loan at U.S. Bank, Grieger completed 60 or more mortgages for NeighborWorks homebuyers a year – about two-thirds of the program’s annual mortgage needs. For qualified individuals, the American Dream product offers buyers a lower down payment requirement, a higher loan-to-value ratio with no private mortgage insurance, and a backup loan pool for unexpected costs that are frequently a part of the closing process.

For NeighborWorks, those features – along with the loan being locally serviced – mean homeownership is more sustainable. Without it, the organization shares it would expect clients to default on the loans at higher rates. Currently, NeighborWorks’ client default rate is at an industry low of 0.6%.

“The homeownership program wouldn’t be possible without our partners at U.S. Bank,” said Rachael Surmick, the chief operating officer at NeighborWorks Lincoln. “When you think about barriers to homeownership for low- to moderate-income individuals, the down payment requirement is a big one. The fact that U.S. Bank has a product like this is impactful. It’s clear that U.S. Bank wants to do this work with us because it’s needed. Together, we have a shared goal and focus.”

All who are admitted to NeighborWorks’ homeownership program go through a homebuyer education course before being provided a directory of affiliated realtors, title companies and mortgage providers. From there, they set out to find a home to call their own.

“Our program works in many ways to create avenues for attaining affordable homeownership, through our real estate development arm which develops new construction units, often where deteriorated properties once stood, or our rehab and down payment assistance for existing homes,” said Surmick.

While Grieger retired before Walker closed on her home in February 2022, U.S. Bank MLO Michael Gleason stepped in to help Walker in the final stretch of her home purchase: a new, three-bedroom duplex, built by NeighborWorks, that has a yard and enough space for a playroom for her kids. For Grieger, the partnership with NeighborWorks helped define a career that helped hundreds of Nebraskans fulfill their dreams of homeownership.

“They talked about it like I had given them a gift,” Grieger said, as she talked about the notes she received from homebuyers over the years. “They did all the work. I was just a facilitator, but – as they say – sometimes it takes a village.”

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