Carpenter, Trucker Win Home-Buy Lottery
The lottery brought together four working-class locals all looking to take advantage of what they saw as an exceptionally affordable price to purchase a home, start building intergenerational wealth, provide some housing security and stability for their families, and deepen their roots in the Elm City.
by THOMAS BREEN | Nov 23, 2020 4:14 pm
Reposted with permission by New Haven Independent
Nearly a decade after losing his first house to foreclosure during the Great Recession, Eli Fletcher won a second chance at homeownership in a city-hosted raffle in Newhallville.
Fletcher, a 42-year-old carpenter and Jamaican immigrant, was one of four applicants who showed up to Winchester Avenue and Thompson Street Monday morning with the hope of landing permission to buy one of the new publicly-funded “affordable” houses recently built by the city atop long-vacant lots.
The homes raffled off at 27 Thompson St. and 523 Winchester Ave. — at the below-market sales prices of $170,000 each — are part of a recent burst of “affordable” homeownership construction led by the city’s Livable City Initiative in Newhallville.
LCI Deputy Director Cathy Schroeter said seven of the nine newly built houses in the neighborhood are already under tentative contract with low-to-moderate-income homebuyers after the city received only one qualifying application for each of those properties.
These two remaining houses received two sets of qualifying applications each from prospective homebuyers making no more than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI)—thus Monday’s raffle, which was presided over by Schoeter and LCI Acting Director Arlevia Samuel. (The Board of Alders must sign off on a city-proposed order allowing the city to enter into formal contracts of sale with qualified homebuyers before these nine homes can be formally purchased.)
Under an overcast sky soon after the morning’s rain let up, the LCI directors gathered with applicants Edward Randall and Shellina Toure outside of 523 Winchester, and then with Fletcher and Alonda Emery outside of 27 Thompson, to pull a number out of a plastic container to determine who would get to sign a contract of sale for the respective houses.
The morning’s lotteries brought together four working-class locals all looking to take advantage of what they saw as an exceptionally affordable price to purchase a home, start building intergenerational wealth, provide some housing security and stability for their families, and deepen their roots in the Elm City.
“Owning a home, it’s a beautiful thing, man,” Fletcher said as he smiled beneath his blue surgical mask after finding out that he had won the Thompson Street home raffle. “Especially when you’re raising children, it’s different. It’s home.”
This Neighborhood Is Being Rebuilt
The first raffle of the morning took place on the sidewalk in front of 523 Winchester Ave.
The applicants were Randall, a 52-year-old truck driver who currently rents in Brookside Estates, and Toure, a New Haven native and the director of housing for Christian Community Action who currently rents in West Haven.
Toure said she grew up on Huntington Street and is eager to move back to the city she works in and, for many years, called home.
“I want to come back to New Haven,” she said. “I believe in the community.” A mother of five, she said she’d like to own a house that she could pass down to her children one day.
And she said she was drawn to the potential of renting out one of the units while living in the other of the new two-family house.
“You’re helping a family with a rental while also helping your own family,” she said about the appeal of the new Winchester Avenue house.
Randall showed up to the raffle with his realtor, Herb Jackson.
The local truck driver said he too was looking for a multi-family house where he, his wife, and two kids could live while potentially renting out a second unit to bring in another line of income.
“And also, this neighborhood is being rebuilt,” he said. “It’s up and coming.”
When asked about the $170,000 sale price, Randall said, “You’re not gonna find a house like for that price” on the regular real estate market. He and Jackson said they had looked at a number of used houses in New Haven that were selling for around $250,000 each. But each of those would require quite a bit of an investment—in a new roof, in wiring—after moving in.
“This is like a no-brainer,” Randall said. “And I think of it as an investment. Maybe as you go along, you can leave something for your kids to have. Also, it’s gonna create a better neighborhood because I’m gonna be an owner and an occupant. I’m gonna make sure the neighborhood around here is clean.”
Each of the nine new city-built houses come with a covenant requiring owner-occupancy for at least 30 years following the sale.
Schroeter asked each of the two applicants to write their city-provided certificate of approval number on the back of a small slip of paper and then pass it to her.
She put the two pieces of paper into a plastic Tupperware, shook the container, and passed it along to Samuel.
Samuel then let her daughter, Ace, reach into the container and pull out the winner.
“Take it away,” Schroeter said. “Pick one out. Just one.”
Ace then passed the number to Samuel, who gave the piece of paper to Schroeter to read.
“7659005,” Schroeter read.
“Congratulations,” Toure immediately said to Randall. Randall breathed a sigh of relief, and elbow-bumped with Johnson.
“I’m feeling OK,” he said after finding out he had won the house. “It’s exciting. Getting it over with.”
A 2nd Chance
After the Winchester raffle, the LCI staffers moved over to Thompson Street to greet two applicants looking to win the right to buy another new “affordable” city-built house.
The two participants in this second raffle were Fletcher, who currently rents an apartment on Howard Avenue and works as a self-employed carpenter, and Emery, a 27-year-old pharmacy tech at YNHH’s St. Raphael’s hospital who currently lives in her parents’ house on Brooklawn Circle.
Emery said she had been saving up money for a few years to try to buy her own home.
She said her family used to rent in the Brookside public housing complex. When the city’s housing authority tore down and rebuilt those apartments, she said, her mom had the option of renting a new apartment in the remodeled complex or purchase her own home on Brooklawn Circle. She chose the latter.
“I’m trying to follow in her footsteps,” Emery said.
Emery said she shares her family’s house with eight brothers and sisters, and she’s looking to find a place of her own.
“I’ve got to branch out before starting a family,” she said.
As for the $170,000 sale price for the new Thompson Street house, Emery said, “That is a very fair price.”
“I’m just really proud of her,” Glasper said about his girlfriend. “She’s just kept at it” in filling out the necessary paperwork and keeping in touch with a realtor and the city since finding out about the Thompson Street house this summer.
Fletcher was the only applicant at Monday’s raffles who said that this would not be his first time owning a home in New Haven, should he win.
Fletcher said he bought his first house on Quinnipiac Avenue in 2006, at the height of a housing bubble.
Once the subprime mortgage bubble exploded and the Great Recession hit, he lost his job as a carpenter. He was out of work for six months, and then another three months.
“I couldn’t keep up with the mortgage,” he said. He wound up losing the home to foreclosure in early 2011.
Currently, he, his wife, and his two children rent an apartment on Howard Avenue.
“By owning a place you’re investing in your self instead of giving all your money away to a landlord,” he said about his interest in the Thompson Street property.
Plus, he likes the neighborhood. Fletcher said he recently worked a job at Highville Charter School in nearby Science Park, where he helped install plexiglass barriers and expand the size of classrooms in the runup to that school’s return to in-person education amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Just as outside of the Winchester Avenue house, Schroeter asked the two applicants to write down their certificate of approval numbers on the back of a piece of paper and then hand those slips back to her.
While Emery used her boyfriend’s back as a temporary desk… Fletcher used the front hood of his car.
Schroeter shook the plastic container, passed it to Samuel, who then let Ace take another draw.
“It looks to me like 146419469,” Schroeter read.
“Congrats, bro,” Glasper said to Fletcher who smiled by the side of his car.
“Mr. Eli,” Schroeter said, “you’ll have a contract by Monday.”
“It feels good,” Fletcher said about winning the right to buy the house. “I feel very good.”
When does he plan on moving in with the rest of his family? “As soon as they give me the paperwork.”