By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Apr 26, 2019 at 9:04 AM

Lawanda Chambers was paying $1,500 in rent every month for her former Washington Heights home. Chambers, who is a mental health therapist, outgrew the space after she became the caretaker of numerous family members with disabilities.

Chambers decided to pursue home ownership after she heard that a monthly mortgage payment could actually cost less than rent and offer more space. Plus, if she bought a house it would belong to her, and she could decorate it anyway she wanted to.

However, Chambers wasn’t familiar with the home-buying process and knew little about the market. At first, she only knew that she wanted to buy a brick home in a community that would provide her family with a good quality of life. This meant a clean, quiet, safe neighborhood with access to community events and a nearby gym.

"I’m a caregiver by nature, and the happiness of my family is very important to me," says Chambers. "And I wanted a brick home because my grandmother had always told me growing up to buy a brick home because it would last longer and be sturdier."

Chambers turned to Housing Resources, Inc. a local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people purchase homes. The organization offers home buying classes, one-on-one consultations and grants that cover or help cover the lesser-known costs in home buying like down payments and closing fees.

"Housing Resources helped me from the very beginning. I took courses and learned not only about buying a house, but about budgeting and saving. These classes are extremely important to anyone who can’t get financial guidance from their own family," says Chambers.

In 2017, after receiving her Certificate of Completion from Housing Resources, Chambers found a home she was very interested in: a duplex on the Southwest Side of Milwaukee.

"We worked hard to get it. It wasn’t easy," says Chambers. "Even though we got a pre-approval from our bank, when it came time to purchase the home, we were denied by the bank in the very last step. It broke our hearts, but we didn't stop there. We found another bank, got the loan and went ahead to get it done."

April is Fair Housing Month and recently, The Greater Milwaukee Association of realtors (GMAR) – a 4,000-member professional organization dedicated to providing information, services and products to help realtors help their clients buy and sell real estate – presented a check for $12,500 to Housing Resources, Inc.

GMAR has a history of commitment to fair and equal housing practices because the organization understands the correlation between home ownership and vibrant communities.

"Home ownership has demonstrated over and over to be vital and important to the stability of the economy and neighborhoods," says Scott Bush, the vice president of operations for GMAR. "We even know that in owner-occupied neighborhoods children do better in school."

The Fair Housing Act became a federal law in 1968, preventing discrimination toward anyone buying or selling a home. But not knowing how to navigate the system can make it difficult to close the deal on a house without the help of realtors. Hence, many realtors serve as educators for clients who've never bought a home before.

However, it’s also in realtors' best interests to support first-time homebuyers because statistically they will buy second homes down the road. And strengthening all of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods through homeownership contributes to a thriving city for everyone.

"You can talk about how building equity is an advantageous economic decision, but we also look at the heart of the issue. People are happier when they can paint their home any color they want and plant whatever they want in their yards and get a dog if they want to," says Bush. "That's really important to us."

But statistics show Milwaukee has experienced a loss of owner-occupied homes in the last 10 years. 

Trena Bond, the executive director for Housing Resources Inc., knows through research as well as everyday life that homeownership is beneficial to the lives of families and the strength of communities.

"Not only does homeownership provide families with a sense of emotional and financial stability and, historically, boost household wealth through equity and appreciation over time, homeownership plays a vital role in helping to build stable communities," says Bond. "Homeowners get involved and have a stake in the success of their neighborhoods, which can improve the health of any community."

Housing Resources partners specifically with real estate agents who created strategies to improve and stabilize local neighborhoods by making it easier for first-time homebuyers.

"A great realtor can explain the amenities, home values, and resources that local neighborhoods offer. They understand the local market conditions, can provide advice to buyers and help them negotiate their home purchase," says Bond. "Realtors not only complete and help buyers understand binding contract documents, they also ensure the timeliness of actions by buyers and sellers as it pertains to the those documents."

Angela Walters has worked as a real estate broker with EXP Realty for 14 years and she often assists first-time and/or lower-income homebuyers. Walters says realtors who commit to the cause are integral to fair and equal housing.

"Everyone in Milwaukee County deserves the opportunity to live in a beautiful, safe place to raise a family," says Walters. "I have seen firsthand how our services help people buy homes."

People like Lawanda Chambers, who finally owns a home – a brick home – that’s large and affordable enough for herself and her family members in need.

"I just can't tell you how grateful our family is for Housing Resources and our new life and the opportunity to live in something that’s ours," says Chambers.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.