NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative
Housing counseling is a proven and effective method to help prepare prospective homebuyers for homeownership. In partnership with the Wells Fargo Foundation, we've awarded more than $4.27 million in grants to HUD-approved housing counseling agencies to provide free one-on-one pre-purchase counseling services through the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative.
Steps in the Homebuying Process
As you begin your journey to becoming a homeowner, local NeighborWorks organizations can help you every step of the way.
Since Jan. 31, this program has helped nearly 8,200 households get the help they need to understand the homebuying process and access local resources like down payment assistance programs.
A key component of successful, sustainable homeownership is educated consumers. When they have the tools, capacity and options to make good choices about buying a home, they'll better understand financing plans, home maintenance and repair and continue to build generational wealth and secure their financial future.
How to Participate
The NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative supports local HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, so they can provide free one-on-one pre-purchase counseling services. Since the program's inception, we've disbursed more than $4.27 million to 128 HUD-approved housing counseling agencies across the U.S., D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Interested in participating in our initiative? Check our list of open markets below. We open in new markets each month, so please check back if you don't see your market listed. You can also contact us for more information
Participating Agency Requirements
Counseling Reimbursement Requirements
- Your initial counseling session should include intake, triage, budget and an action plan.
- The first follow-up should include a review of the action plan created from the first session.
- The second and final follow-up should be provided via various modes of counseling, which can include online or remote counseling through Zoom or other programs.
Reporting & Disbursement Requirements
- The action plan should be signed by the consumer and the counselor who provided services per the memorandum of understanding requirements.
- Your agency should submit the excel template provided during onboarding and client-level data to NeighborWorks online reporting system.
List of Open Markets
Interested in participating in our initiative? See if your market is listed below, and contact us for more information
- Bay Area, California
- Dallas, Texas
- Houston, Texas
- Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Portland, Oregon
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Los Angeles, California
- Montana (Statewide)
- Orlando, Florida
List of Closed & Previously Served Markets
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Mississippi (Statewide)
- Newark, New Jersey
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Sacramento, California
- Washington, D.C./Prince George's County
- Alaska (Statewide)
Changing the way to engage with clients
For the past six years, Porfirio Coronado has been serving first time homebuyers with a sense of passion and drive through his work at Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity. As the Assistant Manager of Homeownership Services, Porfirio has always been hands-on in the homeownership counseling process and has seen the impact this service has on individuals who have always dreamed of owning their home.
All housing organizations have something unique to them and adopt different approaches. What makes Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity’s approach unique is their ability to create specific protocols to guide clients through the homebuying process. Porfirio shares that the organization doesn’t counsel everyone wanting to purchase a home, but specifically those who are able to purchase a home by outlining steps for what it takes to become a homebuyer.
Porfirio and his team chose to opt into the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative (NLHC) after his coworker attended the kickoff call. When asked about what made them opt-in to the program overall, Porfirio shared that when the coronavirus pandemic began, the organization laid off staff due to lack of diverse funding sources. With the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the need for revenue, the organization began billing clients through the NLHC program. This allowed them to keep the department's staff and become self-reliant rather than completely dependent on donors.
Porfirio shares that the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Initiative has changed the way they’ve engaged clients by helping clients identify what stage they’re at in the homebuying process. The action plan requirements have not only helped the counselors look at the client’s progress, but it has helped them identify the best practical way to guide the client.
When asked how the NLHC’s fee for service reimbursement has impacted the organization overall, Porfirio reflects on how it felt when his organization cumulatively received $100,000 in reimbursement fees after 2 years of billing clients to the program. Since opting in, Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity has been able to hire a third counselor. Hiring a third counselor has led the organization to serve more clients, which in turn has assisted the organization in building more revenue. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, homeownership counseling services have been conducted virtually. With the fee reimbursements provided by the NLHC program, Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity was able to utilize those resources towards updated technology that has greatly increased the pace effectiveness when providing these services.
For organizations that are curious about opting-into the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Initiative, Porfirio says: “Go ahead and do it. If you’re already doing the work, why not get paid for it?”
Supportive homeownership counseling paired with in-depth education
Ken Bigos describes the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative as “low-hanging fruit” that has helped sustain and support the organization as a whole. Bigos has been the executive director of the Affordable Housing Centers of Pennsylvania (AHCOPA) for the past nine years and has watched the organization grow over time while fostering and maintaining relationships in the community.
After attending the Philadelphia market kickoff call, Bigos chose to opt-in to the NLHC program while also working to launch a down payment assistance program in partnership with the Philadelphia Housing Authority. He shared that after being onboarded into the NLHC program, his organization was able to establish a timeline for launching the down payment assistance program to increase homeownership opportunities for potential homebuyers.
When asked about how the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative has impacted the organization, Bigos shared that it has helped staff see the impacts of homeownership counseling services while monitoring and maintaining relationships with clients. While there are many clients served for homebuyer education certificates and other one-time sessions, Bigos explained that the follow-up sessions have been beneficial for clients to gain additional support and information regarding home buying process and steps to improve one’s financial health overall.
Prior to the start of the pandemic, the organization was already in the process of moving their services to a virtual platform and credits the smooth transition into remote work to the fee for service reimbursements provided by the NLHC program. When asked about what advice Bigos would give to other organizations looking to opt-in to this program, he shares that “if your organization already provides a first-time homebuyer program, there aren’t many changes needed to take advantage of this opportunity.” He emphasizes that the NLHC program takes “greater due diligence to keep in touch with clients which adds more and more value to the client as a whole.”
Bigos describes many memorable moments since opting into the Initiative including hearing when homeownership counseling clients were approved for LIFT DPA, watching his clients improve their credit scores, and seeing clients pay down their debts. At first glance, many people view the homebuyer process as a nightmare. However, supportive homeownership counseling paired with in-depth education about all of the resources available, future homebuyers are able to make the best choice for themselves.
Emphasizing community relationships
Nancy Rivera founded A-1 Community Housing Services (A-1 CHS) in 2016 and has been providing homeownership counseling services in the Bay Area for more than 15 years. As a smaller agency in the market, Rivera emphasizes the community relationships A-1 CHS has that makes the organization stand out from others.
Rivera chose to attend the Bay Area kickoff call to learn more about the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative (NLHC). After the call, she decided it was a "no brainer" to opt-in as a newer, smaller agency in the market. She described the process as extremely straightforward and easy due to the flexibility of NeighborWorks America's team, which made it a smooth transition for her organization.
It has helped the organization grow overall and build more relationships throughout the community. The NLHC fee for service reimbursement has helped A-1 CHS build their capacity in different ways including increasing marketing efforts, hiring more staff, updating technology, providing more training, and even supporting an office relocation that has helped fill the organization’s needs.
When engaging clients, Rivera emphasizes the one-to-one approach to the homeownership counseling sessions that provide clients with support throughout the entire homebuying process. Nancy recalls many memorable client success stories including one gentleman who was able to achieve homeownership by taking advantage of the resources available which were not known by the client before opting into this program. Rivera shares that if it wasn’t for the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative and the resources provided by the fee for service reimbursement, the chances of that client becoming a homeowner were slim.
For those hesitant about seeking homeownership counseling, Rivera shares that everyone is unsure about the homebuying process. Not only is the homeownership counseling a no-cost service, but it is always beneficial to have someone by your side. Between the financial aspects, budgeting, and resources available in the community, working with a housing counselor provides an unbiased perspective throughout the homebuying journey.
When asked about what advice Rivera would give to those organizations looking to opt-into the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative, she says it is "a win-win situation if you are already providing those services to the community."
The education needed to understand the homebuying process
With the average home price at nearly $1.3 million, the Bay Area is the most expensive housing market in the country. The high-cost market makes homeownership seem unattainable for many Bay Area residents such as Amy Mefford, who was approved for a home loan in 2013 but could not find a home within her budget for nearly seven years.
After being referred to A-1 Community Housing Services (A1 CHS) by a family friend, Mefford expected another disappointment. A previous experience with another housing counseling agency was not fruitful due to her limited resources to buy a home. However, after her first consultation with A-1 CHS, she "walked out feeling different."
The NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling Initiative seeks to support customers exactly like Mefford. By supporting local housing counseling agencies that provide free one-to-one pre-purchase counseling services, potential homeowners are equipped with the education they need to fully understand the homebuying process.
After working with A-1 CHS, Mefford felt that she had been positioned for success. Her conversations with lenders were more insightful due to the knowledge that she had gained from homebuyer classes and her homeownership counseling sessions. Mefford emphasized that the homeownership counseling team was supportive throughout the process and that she felt well prepared when closing on her home.
After seven years of challenges in a high-cost housing market, Mefford was able to purchase her dream home. When asked what advice she would give to others who are unsure about the homeownership counseling process, Mefford said that it is a "slow and steady process but [the outcome] will be worth it." She goes on to express praise for her housing counselor at A-1 CHS: "I cannot emphasize enough how many people are there for support. From knowing what you qualify for and understanding the homebuying process, Nancy set us up with a plan that was successful".
While the average home price continues to increase in many communities across the country, homeownership counseling provides hope and the tools necessary to move forward in the process.
Working with a homeownership counselor
Michael Crower sits in front of his new home after receiving one-on-one housing counseling thanks to the NeighborhoodLIFT Housing Counseling Initiative. After 15 years of living in Houston, Texas, Crower believed it was time to put down roots and buy a home. Two weeks later, he heard an advertisement on the radio about the NeighborhoodLIFT program coming to Houston and contacted a NeighborWorks network organization Avenue. He built a relationship with a housing counselor, who helped walk him through the homebuying process provided at no cost through the NeighborhoodLIFT Homeownership Counseling program. Crower was also able to take homebuyer education courses required to receive LIFT down payment assistance. For eight months, his homeownership counselor at Avenue worked with him every step of the way.Crower often reflects on the program and the free one-on-one housing counseling that he received through Avenue: "If I had that information 20 years ago, I would have bought a house 20 years ago."
When he closed on his home, he says the feeling was "amazing because I didn't think it was ever going to happen." Although his path to closing on his home was challenging, he remained grateful for the housing counseling that he received.
"I was impressed by Avenue and the information that they provided. It was fantastic. I can't say enough good things about them." He highly recommends Avenue and housing counseling to his friends and says the information that he received during his journey to homeownership was invaluable.