The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has declared June as National Homeownership Month. We interviewed Amy Schaftlein from United Housing to find out what that means, and to talk about United Housing and what they do.
C901: Hi Amy! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Amy Schaftlein: My name is Amy Schaftlein, and I’ve been a Memphian for 12 years. I currently serve as United Housing’s executive director. United Housing is a nonprofit that provides quality housing opportunities through education, mortgage lending, as well as home building and renovation. We work hard every day to help make the dream of homeownership a reality for our clients.
I began my career as a research assistant for the University Neighborhood Development Corporation. After that, I spent six years with United Housing as the director of development and communications from 2010-2016, followed by two years with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency as the industry and government liaison. My time with THDA gave me a better understanding of the affordable housing industry and ultimately prepared me to be able to return to United Housing as executive director in February of this year.
A few personal tidbits about me – I received my master’s degree in urban anthropology from the University of Memphis. When I’m away from the office, I enjoy walking my dog, as well as eating and drinking around my neighborhood of Cooper-Young. I am a volunteer programmer at WEVL 89.9 FM. My show is called Bubblegum Trash on every Tuesday morning. I also have a music podcast called “Sonosphere,” and part of this endeavor is working with Crosstown Arts to curate a four-part performance and lecture series, “Sound Observations,” by inviting electronic, experimental and classical music composers to Memphis.
C901: What are the barriers facing potential homeowners in Memphis?
AS: Potential homebuyers are faced with a variety of barriers, all of which we at United Housing are able to assist with — think credit score issues, access to down payment funds and, to no fault of their own, little to no understanding of the home-buying process. More so than anything else though, potential homeowners are facing little access to traditional credit and banking opportunities, leading to high use of predatory lenders. You have probably heard of these institutions before. They often advertise “payday loans” or check-cashing services. In reality, they prey on individuals living at or below the poverty line, offering cash on the spot with compounding interest rates that are the highest in the financial industry — sometimes as high as 500 percent!
Metro Ideas Project in Chattanooga released a study earlier this year that covered predatory lending in Tennessee. The study shows that Tennessee has the most predatory lending offices in the country. In fact, Shelby County has the most in the state with 232. Our state has few regulations that protect consumers from these financial institutions despite their illegal status in 24 other states.
C901: What programs does United Housing offer to break down those barriers?
AS: Debt caused by things like predatory lending and low wages are major burdens that prevent individuals from owning a home. As a person’s credit score declines, they become less and less likely to qualify for a mortgage. United Housing works with families to help increase their credit score through credit counseling, while also connecting them with upstanding financial institutions that can support their dream of becoming a homeowner through our down payment assistance program that is available for any graduate of our homebuyer education course. The homebuyer education courses provide invaluable instruction and one-on-one counseling sessions covering a wide-range of topics, including how to improve credit over time, how to qualify for a mortgage loan, what happens at loan closing and more. Those who complete the program are then eligible to apply for down payment assistance.
C901: What is exciting to you about the Memphis market specifically?
AS: Memphis has rich neighborhood identity and history. Each community has a unique feel, look and energy. Just because one community development strategy works in one place doesn’t mean it will work in the next. I’m excited as the new director of a city-wide Community Development Corporation (CDC) to partner more closely with our neighborhood leaders and neighborhood-based CDCs, city/county government and other housing industry partners to build upon and strengthen the Memphis market and neighborhood pride that makes our city soulful.
C901: Why Memphis and not somewhere else? Why did you “choose the 901”?
AS: I went to Bolton High School (c/o 2003!) and decided to stay in the city and attend the University of Memphis.The applied anthropology program kept me engaged in community development and housing work throughout Memphis neighborhoods. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Anthropology Department at the U of M. They connected me to my first job in community development and led me to United Housing in 2010, where I worked under my mentor Tim Bolding for six years. Memphis is home. I bought a home in Cooper-Young eight years ago, and I’ve seen so much change since then. I love walking and biking all over the city. The food is great, too! Memphis has a small-town feel with big-city amenities. We have so much work to do in access to quality housing, education and health, but the grassroots energy, do-it-yourself music, entrepreneurial scene and rich soul make me excited about what we have here and for what is to come.
C901: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has declared June as National Homeownership Month. What is the purpose of a “Homeownership Month” and what are some ways Memphians can get involved?
AS: National Homeownership Month gives us the opportunity to put what we do at United Housing in the spotlight. Doing so ensures more people in our area can reach for homeownership, which we view as a fundamental piece of the American dream. The theme for this year’s National Homeownership Month is “Dare to Own the Dream.” At United Housing, we are committed to making homeownership more accessible and sustainable, and have made great strides by doing things like building affordable, eco-friendly homes at Wolf River Bluffs in Frayser and working with the 842 individuals who have come through our homebuyer education program.
Save the date for United Housing’s Night at the Brewery at Crosstown Brewery on November 15th. More info to come. Follow United Housing on Facebook for updates.