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Unlocking home ownership

Program helps first-time homebuyers, neighborhoods
by: Jim Clark Jim Staley loves his tidy new house in Gresham, purchased through the help of Proud Ground.

It's a small thing, the key in Jim Staley's palm.

But it's huge to him.

The key unlocks the front door of Jim's new house in Gresham and is the key to a life of safety, stability and independence.

Jim, a first-time homeowner, bought the house through a new partnership between three agencies and the city of Gresham. The three agencies - Community Vision Inc., Proud Ground and the Native American Youth and Family Center - have histories of helping families with low to moderate incomes, as well as disabled citizens, become first-time homebuyers.

Now, by teaming with the city, five families and individuals have purchased homes in Gresham this year through the partnership. Two more families will buy homes in Gresham in 2012.

Gresham awarded some of its federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the partnership, which then awards grants up to $70,000 to eligible first-time homebuyers. The grants bring the purchase price down to an affordable level, allowing people and families who are usually priced out of homeownership to experience the thrill of turning a key and walking into a home they own.

The grants also allow homebuyers to make household repairs or renovations. Of the maximum grant of $70,000, up to $25,000 can be used for improvements.

In Jim's case, he spent about $10,000 of his $43,000 grant fixing up his new three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. It needed new exterior and interior paint and landscape grading, plus some electrical and plumbing work.

Jim also layered the grant program with two others for a total of $95,000 in savings.

Because his new house is a foreclosure in Gresham's Come-Home-to-Gresham target area, he received $25,000 from the city through that program.

As a former Section 8 housing resident, he also received $15,000 in Self Help Opportunity Program funds, or SHOP funding, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This program also required that Jim invest 58 hours of sweat equity, or hands-on work, into the home.

A family member provided $10,000 toward the $161,370 purchase price, with Jim putting $1,000 down. That brought the mortgage down to about $66,000, or put another way, just under $595 a month.

It's an amount Jim can cover with his job at Nossa Familia Coffee and his Social Security income.

Class-action lawsuit

Jim, 46, is considered developmentally disabled. He has an assistant through Community Visions, Colleen Gilham, who helps him with things like cleaning, buying groceries and paperwork.

In his spare time, he volunteers for Loaves and Fishes Ambleside Center in Gresham and sings karaoke at Pastimes Sports Bar. 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin'' is his signature tune.

For years Jim lived with his parents in Beaverton while waiting for housing to open up. But nothing ever seemed to become available. After six years of waiting, Jim, his parents and four other families filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 2000. The suit demanded services for Medicaid-eligible adults with developmental disabilities who'd spent years on wait lists for services.

The Staley Agreement - named after him - settled the lawsuit. Although Jim secured housing through the agreement, it wasn't very safe. A shooting in the elevator of his apartment complex - off Northeast 148th Avenue and East Burnside Street - rattled him so much, he moved to another apartment in Fairview. But there was a shooting there, too.

And so the house hunt began.

Jim toured the house he ended up buying in June. He loved the neighborhood and the quiet cul-de-sac the house was on.

Because the house was in foreclosure, the purchase process took longer than usual - nearly half a year. Assumptions about his competency also caused a delay. When it came time to sign the final closing documents, his title company balked.

'They didn't think he knew what he was signing,' Colleen said.

Jim, incensed and insulted, fired them and hired a new title company that saw the deal through. He moved in just in time for Thanksgiving.

'Now that we're in the house, it was worth the wait,' said Colleen, who has her own room complete with her doll collection.

'Ya,' Jim said.

Jim enjoys walking to the nearby Troutdale Library and strolling through the neighborhood. In the past year, he's become an avid walker and between the exercise and cutting out soda pop, has shed 100 pounds.

He's also enjoying entertaining guests. On Thanksgiving, he hosted dinner for 20 people, including Colleen's children and grandchildren, who consider him family - something he couldn't have done in his little apartment.

There's only one thing missing from his bright airy home.

The fenced-in backyard needs a dog. Jim envisions a black Lab.