Finally Home

By Kathleen Seaman

A local nonprofit helps a woman create a safe haven for her family

Growing up, no one, at least not in my household, taught you the things [connected to] your name, your credit, your job stability, all of those things that are important in order for you to get to that next level,” Angelica Guzman said.

For Guzman, the next level was owning her own home. She enjoys taking care of people, and as a private events supervisor at the Baylor Club, she gets to do that every day.

“It can be a celebration of life or it could be a wedding, but to know that you took that burden off of someone so that they can enjoy their family time or their personal time with the people that they love — that is such a joy for me,” she said.

Guzman also takes care of her large family, which includes lots of nieces and nephews and her grandmother. She often treats her nieces and nephews to trips to the park, swimming in the river or breakfast at Denny’s on her days off, and the kids frequently end up hanging out at her place or spending the night. Her grandmother lives alone, and Guzman thought owning a home would allow her grandmother to move in with her. She dreamed of creating a “forever place” for them, but in order to be able to buy a home, she knew she needed to work on building up her credit score and working on her finances.

She had been in the process of doing just that, and in 2015, she actually met with a realtor, but life got in the way and her dream was put on the back burner for a few years. Then, in 2019, while scrolling through her Facebook feed, she saw an ad for NeighborWorks Waco.

“I had finished paying off my school loan, paying off my car, so I knew my credit went extra high then. I was like, ‘Man, sky’s the limit.’ I saw a Facebook ad for NeighborWorks, and when I saw that, I automatically signed up. They contacted me, and I immediately told them I’m willing to do whatever it is, but I need someone to hold my hand because I don’t know what I’m doing,” Guzman said.

NeighborWorks Waco is a nonprofit organization that strives to build stronger neighborhoods through homeownership. It offers one-on-one counseling to teach participants about their credit and the homebuying process and helps them develop action plans. It offers free homebuyer education workshops that include topics like personal money management, basic home maintenance and household budgeting. These classes are taught by local industry professionals. It’s also a not-for-profit lender and offers down payment and closing cost assistance.

“Oftentimes people self-select themselves out of a becoming a homeowner,” said Delisa Burnell-Smith, NeighborWorks vice president and chief operating officer and a licensed mortgage loan originator. “They feel like, ‘My credit is not where it needs to be. I’m not going to ever get there. My family members have never owned a home before.’ They self-select themselves out of programs and services. Our one-on-one counseling provides them the necessary goal-setting tools they need to help them get there. When they start working through those processes of addressing credit issues or whatever their shortfalls may be, they begin to realize that, ‘Hey, it’s obtainable. I can get there,’ and it builds a sense of excitement and gratitude to be able to purchase their first home.”

Soon after seeing the ad, Guzman attended a homebuyer education workshop and then filled out the organization’s homeownership application so she could be contacted for the one-on-one counseling.

“When you go through the steps, [NeighborWorks] is going to tell you, OK, this is where you’re at, and this is what you need to do to get to that next step. They really look into your everyday lifestyle to make sure you’re ready,” Guzman said.

Guzman remembers a particularly eye-opening experience when she was asked to guess how much money she spends on certain items like food. She said she limited herself to $400 a month on groceries and estimated she spent about $200 a month eating out.

“Miss Delisa was like, ‘Angelica, you have got to stop going out to eat. You eat $400 a week out at a restaurant.’ That is ridiculous. Had someone not taken the time to sit down and explain this to me, I would’ve never known. It really helped me to budget my money better. We always think we’re doing a good job as an adult in everything that we do, but there’s always a better solution. If you want to take it.”

“She was very determined,” Burnell-Smith said. “She did everything that we asked her to do to shape herself financially and credit-wise to move in the direction of purchasing her home, and we provided her with the necessary tools that she would need to be successful in the home ownership. Angelica is a person who has goals, and once she states her goal, she wants to be able to accomplish those goals, and homeownership was at the top of her list.”

Through NeighborWorks assistance, Guzman received $25,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance from the city of Waco. NeighborWorks also received special funding from Texas First State Bank that allowed it to grant $1,000 each to 12 first-time homebuyers.

“She was the first recipient of those dollars, and those dollars were the key to helping her eliminate the mortgage insurance premium that came along with her mortgage,” Burnell-Smith said. “Angelica really saved thousands and thousands of dollars over the course of her loan because her mortgage insurance premium was eliminated.”

Guzman ended up buying a brand-new 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home in the Legacy Square subdivision of East Waco. The home is laid out where the master bedroom is on one side of the house and the spare bedrooms, where her nieces and nephews stay when they come over, are on the opposite side, which she loves. She also loves having her first-ever walk-in closet and a front porch where she can sit and look out at the neighborhood.

“It was worth every headache, every ‘why.’ To be in your own home really is beautiful,” Guzman said. “The neighborhood’s beautiful. The people are nice. My neighbors across the street over there, they’ve been here for like 25-plus years. It’s good to be a part of a neighborhood where you know the people aren’t going to go anywhere.”

Guzman said she likes to be outside, and now she doesn’t feel like she’s wasting money by making her outdoor space as nice as the inside. During the quarantine, Guzman built an outdoor living area in her backyard. It has a rock path that leads from the backdoor to a diamond-shaped sitting area with porch swings and a central brick fire pit.

For now, it’s just Guzman and her chihuahua, Vida, living in her new home. Her grandmother still lives on her own; Guzman said she likes her privacy and is too strong-willed to give up her independence just yet. Her nieces and nephews, however, are over all the time, especially on the weekends and throughout the quarantine.

“This is tía’s house. This is their house. This is their safe haven, and they just do their thing,” Guzman said. “When I wake up and I go look through the house, I see [kids laying] everywhere. It’s a good feeling to know that they’re safe,” Guzman said.

From “renting” space on a couch, living in an efficiency, a garage apartment, a duplex, a rental home to now owning her home, Guzman has been living on her own since she was 15, something she’s surprisingly thankful for.

“My mom put me out at an early age because I was a very stubborn, very hard-headed kid,” Guzman said. “She did her best, and I honestly think that was the best thing that she could have done for me. It made me grow up. I’ve learned through everything that I’ve gone through, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m grateful for every ladder that I climbed. I sit on my porch and I think about it, sometimes you can cry, but it’s happy tears. I’m finally at home.”

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