WASHOUGAL — Twenty years ago, Kori York says she was homeless, helpless, hopeless and drunk. She was far removed from the life she’s now carved out for herself — a life that includes sobriety and homeownership.
“I would’ve never believed in a million years that I could buy a house,” said York, 56. She cried when she learned she was mortgage-ready.
Her achievement is magnified considering the competitive housing market and the fact that her annual salary as a peer support specialist at Lifeline Connections is $24,000, which is considered low-income. Most households earning that kind of money are renters, and with Clark County median home sale prices climbing toward $300,000, they’ll likely stay renters.
York rented a two-bedroom apartment in Hazel Dell before securing a grant through the Portland-based nonprofit Proud Ground, which bought down the purchase price of her new home in Washougal. While the home was listed for $214,400, with the program’s large grant she bought the three-bedroom, ranch-style house for $156,900.
Without the grant, buying a home at that price would be very challenging. On Monday, there were only 14 homes in Clark County listed for $156,900 or less on RMLS, the regional real estate listing service. They were manufactured homes, condominiums and single-family homes in need of repair on the county’s outskirts.
Did You Know?
• Among Clark County households earning $25,000 or less annually, 17,802 are renters and 10,054 are homeowners.
To Learn More:
To learn more about the homeownership program, go to www.proudground.org
Before a flier about Proud Ground came across her desk at work in January, York had considered moving to her mom’s or a recovery house. Many of the people she works with at Lifeline Connections, a drug rehabilitation and mental health provider, are homeless; she knows people living on the streets, under bridges, with parents or crammed into rentals with several roommates.
York’s monthly mortgage payments are $877. Monthly rent at her apartment was going to go up from $935 to $1,350 if she continued to live there on a month-to-month agreement.
While many people in similar situations want to get out of the rental market, they can’t because they don’t have the purchasing power to get a home in Clark County’s tight market, said Kathy Armstrong, Proud Ground director.
“One of the things that are keeping people out of the market — it’s not just the price of the home — it’s the 20 percent down payment,” Armstrong said.
Proud Ground allows homebuyers to put as little as $500 down. York was able to put $20,000 down, a combination of her savings, 401(k) retirement savings, and money from her mother and friends. The Seattle-based Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies found that homeownership is increasingly out of reach for potential first-time homebuyers, who tend to have lower incomes and are looking for less-expensive homes. The research center said potential buyers in Clark County have only 86.8 percent of the income needed to buy their first home.
Armstrong said that’s due to the discord between wages and housing costs. The median family income for the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., metropolitan area fell in 2016 to $73,300, $600 less than in 2015. Meanwhile, the rent for a two-bedroom apartment rose 31 percent and the median sale price of a home increased by about 10 percent.
“What used to be good, solid middle-income jobs — you could get your house, you could get your down payment — it’s not enough anymore because of what’s happening to housing prices in this region, and the economy is changing,” Armstrong said.
A 2013 analysis authored by Proud Ground found that 34 percent of homes listed for less than $200,000 were sold to cash buyers, presumably to be flipped for rentals.
“That’s a third of the stock that would be considered affordable to middle-income people,” Armstrong said.
York’s house had a cash offer on it from an investor who wanted to update the 1990-built house. The owner, however, met York and accepted her offer instead.
“He wanted somebody in his house that was going to love it and care for it because it was his father’s house, and his father passed away,” York said.
She was outbid on a home in Woodland and a home in unincorporated Clark County before finding success. Her friend, Patti Griffith, a real estate agent with RE/MAX, and Katie Ullrich, Proud Ground’s homeownership program manager, navigated her through the process.
“We’re running into that more and more where the seller is choosing our homebuyers over other, better offers,” Armstrong said. “Most people don’t like what’s going on in the market — that it’s just becoming this crazy bidding war with cash offers with people coming from out of town who aren’t going to live in the home. And people do have attachments to their homes.”
Homeownership has been relatively flat in Clark County, hovering around 104,000 households since 2009, according to Census estimates. Meanwhile, renter-occupied households climbed by 19 percent between 2009 and 2014.
Proud Ground has bought down the prices of six homes in Clark County that, through purchase agreements, will continue to be affordable to future buyers. The program launched in Portland in 1999 and expanded to Clark County in 2014. York is the first person to buy a home in Washougal through the program, which is available to people living anywhere in Clark County except within the Vancouver city limits. Funding comes from the federal Community Development Block Grant program through the Clark County Department of Community Services.
Armstrong would like to get the city of Vancouver on board, and Proud Ground may partner with Vancouver Housing Authority for a future project that would build permanently affordable homes in downtown Vancouver. Outreach for the next homeownership granting cycle may start around July.
People could wait for the next information session, but York suggests people be proactive like she was and start talking with the Community Housing Resource Center to learn more about the qualifications for the program.
As part of the program agreements, York has to put some sweat equity into her 1,086-square-foot home. She installed a vent well and has to do some landscaping and replace a dishwasher hose, among other tasks. After that, she gets to move onto her own projects, namely her backyard garden.
“It was a meant-to-be thing,” York said. “A God shot.”