When Duke University kicked off its Southside Housing Incentive Program last year, the goal was to encourage Duke employees to become some of the first stable homeowners in the revitalized Southside neighborhood. The initiative, offered to employees meeting certain income qualifications, was one of several ways that Duke partnered with the City of Durham and Self-Help to support the restoration of historic Southside.
As the first wave of applications came in, something else emerged — a unique support network for those employees who were interested but not quite ready to buy a home.
“We found out that many of the people that wanted to buy a home and submit applications were not able to qualify because they weren’t credit-ready, or they didn’t have savings,” says Mayme Webb-Bledsoe of Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs.
Mayme worked with Lorisa Seibel of Reinvestment Partners and Autrice Campbell-Long of SunTrust to organize an eight-week homebuyers training, designed to help those applicants repair their credit and create strategies for saving and building personal wealth.
As that training drew to a close, several participants wanted to meet monthly — and the Duke Homebuyers Club was born.
“The goal is for us to help people reach their potential, and be able to take advantage of whatever resources Duke can provide in order for them to build wealth,” Mayme says. “We’re trying to surround the employees with as much support as we can.”
Mayme keeps in touch with Duke Homebuyers Club members and secures meeting places; Lorisa helps to counsel participants through the processes of saving, credit repair and homebuying; and Autrice delivers the course curriculum.
So far it’s working. More than half of the current 26 participants are expected to be credit-worthy by the end of the year, and three already have closed on homes of their own.
Sheriffe Blake, Senior Housekeeping Supervisor, has worked at Duke for than a decade. She said she’s learned about retirement, savings, loans, and building, purchasing and maintaining a home. But the best part, she said, was the community aspect and support.“We meet once a month to stay in touch and go over updates on each participant’s journey into homeownership,” she says. “The biggest part of the program that has helped me is the continuous information from and support of Mayme, Lorisa, Angela Coleman and Autrice.”
Mayme, a Durham native, said she is thrilled with the organic emergence of the Duke Homebuyers Club. “I grew up here, and I’m very familiar with many of the neighborhood groups and some of the leaders within those communities,” she says. “My goal has always been to connect the community with the employees of Duke.”
The Office of Durham and Regional Affairs is seeking ways to continue and improve the Duke Homebuyers Club. The office hopes to secure privately donated funds to match participants’ savings, for example.
Mayme said she looks forward to seeing the club’s legacy form. “It’s very unique for an employer to want to do this,” she says. “I think it speaks highly of Duke for wanting to help their employees be the best that they can be.”