For One Family: A Place, and Community, of Their Own
As in many areas of the country, housing costs are increasing at a steady rate in Houston, while incomes have remained fairly stagnant. This makes it difficult for families to find affordable housing in healthy, sustainable neighborhoods. Happily, here’s the story of a young family who found their dream home, thanks to Avenue CDC, a Houston non-profit with a mission to build affordable homes and strengthen communities. Capital One is proud to partner with this organization.
When Ashley and Jason Phelps imagined their kids growing up, they hoped for a place surrounded by friendly neighbors, with the opportunity to play with neighborhood kids. Instead, they found themselves in a cramped bungalow in a Houston neighborhood, short on space, and unable to even see over the high fences that divided them from their neighbors.
The street we lived on was like a wall. Our kids could not see their neighbors and there was not the neighborhood feel — Jason Phelps
In fact, they were so walled-off from their neighbors, Ashley wasn’t even sure there were other children who lived on their street. Jason recalled
With an eight-year old and a five-month old, the Phelps learned a third child was on the way. They knew it was time to look for a larger house with more of the neighborhood feel they had dreamed about. However, they knew finding a larger house at a price they could afford was going to be a challenge.
As in many areas of the country, housing costs have been increasing in Houston at an incredible rate, while incomes have remained fairly stagnant. “Affordable housing is such a crucial issue in the city. The median home price climbed from about $150,000 in 2011, to almost $220,000 in 2016. [That’s] a 50% increase in five years,” said Mary Lawler, executive director of Avenue CDC, a Houston non-profit whose mission is to build affordable homes and strengthen communities.
Founded in 1991, Avenue CDC works with a variety of community partners to achieve this mission. One such neighborhood is Avenue Place—95 green homes minutes from downtown Houston. It’s located in the heart of the Near Northside and built directly adjacent to a spacious city park. It features direct access to public transportation, employment, shopping, and cultural centers. Formerly a FedEx freight terminal, the 20-acre tract of land was identified and secured by Avenue CDC in 2008 with help from the Houston Endowment.
So it was Avenue Place that caught Ashley Phelp’s eye while scanning online listings for homes in the Houston area. That listing was enough to get the family into the car to do some exploration. And they liked what they saw. “The homes are beautiful. They’re very colorful…both contemporary and traditional design. So you look at them and think they’re new and fresh,” Ashley said.
Shortly thereafter, a family friend, who is also an officer of the Houston Police Department, moved into the Avenue community. Her review of the neighborhood was glowing. Between the attractive designs, the prices, and the positive feedback, the Phelps sprang into action.
“We ended up calling and thankfully got a contract on a house while it was still a patch of dirt… [It was] a total new build. We drove over here and selected the floorplan we wanted,” Ashley explained. The deal was completed in a matter of two short weeks.
A Healthy, Sustainable Community and A Great Place to Live and Work
In only a few years, the affordable housing community formed by both Avenue Place and Avenue Terrace (a rental complex of nearly 200 apartments) has earned recognition as an attractive community for people of diverse ages and backgrounds.
“The response has been amazing, with many homes sold before construction even begins,” Lawler, said. “Today, 64 out of the 95 homes have been constructed, with 63 homes sold and the one unsold house serving as the model.” She pointed out that the benefits Avenue Place offers its residents go far beyond the financial. “Avenue’s overall strategy is to address not just needs for affordable housing, but all of the factors that lead to a healthy, sustainable community, including safety, health and education, and ensuring that communities have parks, transportation, supermarkets and all of those things that make a neighborhood a great place to live and work.”
“It’s incredibly diverse—an eclectic community and not just one demographic,” said Ashley, who quickly became a member of the neighborhood’s civic association. “There is a fairly accurate representation of Houston in this little neighborhood.”
“All Avenue development programs utilize ‘green building’ techniques and materials to make our homes healthier and more cost efficient for buyers and better for the environment. All new homes are Energy Star-certified, which reduces utility usage and saves residents roughly $200-$400 in utility costs annually,” Lawler explained, citing figures from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Phelps live in a home that’s nearly twice the size of their previous one. “We were living in 1100 square-foot one-story bungalow that was built in the 1920s. It was a beautiful little craftsman home. But the energy bills we paid there were terrible. Now, we pay about $80 less per month on our electric bill than we ever did… So it reduced our energy bill significantly…we have more space and it [costs] less to run,” Ashley said.
Helping More People Become Home Owners
Capital One is familiar with the rapid rise of housing costs and has been actively working to help people overcome such obstacles to home ownership. In the case of Avenue Place—95 green homes minutes from downtown Houston—Capital One Community Development Corporation II provided a $1 million line of credit that funded a large part of the project’s construction phase. Capital One Community Finance also provided $6 million in construction financing, a $2 million permanent loan and $6.8 million in 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits through NEF for the expansion of the larger Avenue Terraces development of which Avenue Place is a part.
Lawler said, “Capital One supports our homebuyer education programs, which benefit all Houstonians, not only Avenue Place residents. These programs helped 201 families become homeowners in 2016.”