March 26, 2019  

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USM Program Helps Families with Disabilities Gain Homeownership

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Patricia Bryant purchased her Hattiesburg home through the IDS Home of Your Own program. (Submitted photo)

The path to living the American Dream can prove a little rockier for people with disabilities. Oftentimes, the idea of homeownership is as remote as any uninhabited desert.

But thanks to a unique program offered by The University of Southern Mississippi’s institute for Disability Studies, many underserved state residents have an opportunity to purchase their first homes. Since its inception in 1997, the Mississippi Home of Your Own (HOYO) program has assisted more than 700 homebuyers across 66 of the state’s 82 counties in obtaining a new home.

Cassie Hicks, IDS Director of Housing, notes that the program’s mission from day one has been to foster a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities so that they might be more independent, more productive, and more inclusive in their communities.

“It was realized, years ago, that through no fault of their own many households with disabilities were being left out of having the American Dream of home ownership,” said Hicks. “Consequently, partnerships were formed and a coalition was established to launch HOYO in our state to identify support services and resources needed and that were available to assist interested and eligible households with disabilities to achieve long-term, safe, decent, and affordable housing in Mississippi.”

HOYO focuses on creating a support system that identifies potential homebuyers, analyzes their housing needs and financial capacity and prepares them for homeownership. Applicants of the HOYO program must attend homebuyer education seminars to be considered for financial assistance in purchasing a home.

Program participants select their own single family dwelling for possible purchase. All homes must meet HUD’s minimum property standards and must appraise for what the seller is asking as a sale price. The maximum sales price for the HOYO program is $110,000 and the buyer must obtain approval from a lender and not exceed housing program ratios set by the program.

Included among the many happy and grateful first-time homeowners benefitting from the program are Kelli and Blake Dry, of Petal, Miss. The couple purchased their home in December of last year – something that had seemed far-fetched at best. Today, they are the proud owners of a 1,300-sqare-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home that features a spacious back yard in which 4-year-old daughter, Rhealyn Grace, can play.

The Dry’s learned about the program through Kelli’s aunt, Carol Breedlove, who is an area mortgage loan officer. The couple immediately qualified for the program as a result of Blake Dry’s spina bifida disability.

“If it were not for the grant program, we would not have been able to afford this type of house,” said Kelli Dry. “We were looking at mobile homes first, but then when my aunt discussed the program with us, we worked with a realtor to find us this perfect house. We are truly thankful for our home and the program at USM.”

Throughout the year IDS sponsors HOYO home-buyer workshops that range from one end of Mississippi to the other. Since 1997, IDS has hosted more than 300 of these workshops. In the past eight years, more than 3,000 households have participated in the workshops.

The HOYO program provides households with a better understanding of what to expect when considering a home purchase, while also supplying them with tools and resources during the home buying process.

One-on-one individualized counseling gives clients that special attention to their specific situation by helping them to establish whether or not homeownership is right for them at that time. The sessions include budget and credit counseling, and identifying/gaining access to resources such as down payment assistance. As part of the counseling, credit action plans are developed for individuals who need to resolve their barriers to housing before becoming homeowners.

Heather Steele, IDS associate coordinator for Housing Services, takes particular delight in watching potential home buyers outline their particular needs, then passionately follow through with the program’s recommendations to change their circumstances.

“It is a great feeling to work with the families, hear the challenges of their past and assist them in achieving their goal of homeownership,” said Steele. “I believe poverty is a state of mind and too often individuals get seemingly trapped in thinking they can’t do better than where they came from in life. I can’t help but have joy knowing that I was part of the process that provided families with an opportunity to positively change their lives.”

To learn more about the HOYO program at USM, contact the Institute for Disability Studies at 601.266.5163 or visit: