Planning to be married, Megan and Jaymz had a problem. The only place they had to begin their lives together was with Melissa’s father in Wallowa.

The home they had their eyes on — where they met as youths — was for sale. But it seemed beyond their financial reach. Until, that is, Community Connection of Northeast Oregon and its Housing Resource Center (HRC) helped them.

Megan Hayes first heard of Community Connection’s programs through her sister and scheduled a meeting with HRC housing developer Debbie Votaw.

Today, the Hayes and their two young children are the proud owners of that home, managing a $165,000 mortgage they once thought impossible.

Hayes met the income qualifications, having just graduated from college. The HRC contract she signed required regular meetings for counseling with Votaw and regular savings deposits. She also attended budgeting classes and learned how to pay off her credit cards and vehicle loans, which helped improve her credit rating.

“It worked out great,” she said.

Debbie MacBaker, manager for the La Grande-based agency, said more of the popular Saturday budgeting classes are planned for Baker, Grant, Union and Wallowa counties in the spring and again in the fall. She said her agency does not charge for classes. Megan Hayes said she took the Saturday class and others online.

“It’s an ‘a-ha’ moment,” MacBaker said.

In 2019, the HRC conducted 17 classes including Becoming a Rental Super Star and Homebuying Education Workshops. Approximately 402 people participated in the four counties.

Over the past two years, MacBaker has met with 132 individuals for financial counseling for multiple sessions.

While Erica Kite lived in Joseph, she benefited as a first-time homebuyer through the Individual Development Account. She said the program required that she be making less than a specified income, have a job and be saving toward a down payment on a home.

Now 36, the mother of a 3-year-old son started in the program three years ago and stuck with it.

“It was a big chunk of time,” she said. “I’d encourage people to stay with it.”

During the three years she was involved with the program, she changed jobs and moved to La Pine where, with the HRC’s assistance, she purchased a home with a $128,000 mortgage.

Kite said she found MacBaker’s assistance valuable. Now, with a well-paying job in Bend, Kite didn’t become disqualified for the programs because her income level increased. She just had to continue working, saving and attending the required courses.

She found MacBaker’s budgeting class and a homebuyer workshop that taught all the aspects of buying a home quite helpful.

Phil Wick, a retired man living in Baker City on a fixed income, also was helped by MacBaker. A couple years ago, he was facing foreclosure on a $130,000 mortgage on his home. He said it was a variety of circumstances that he declined to detail that took him from a monthly mortgage payment of $450 to more than $1,000 within 10 years.

“I couldn’t make the payments,” he said.

MacBaker took him through programs for those who are hardest hit by such circumstances and for loan modification, as well as state programs.

“She took me through two or three different programs and I got straightened out with the finance companies,” Wick said.

Now Wick had a mortgage payment of $540 that he can manage.

“I get to keep my home,” he said.

Community Connection’s work is partially funded by grants received from banks — such as the $10,000 grant from Wells Fargo announced earlier this month — and from federal and state agencies. The grants help cover staffing, travel, costs of obtaining credit reports, income/expense verification, some snacks and lunches and other costs related to the programs. The grants do not go directly toward clients’ loans.

Although Wells Fargo has no banks in Wallowa County, local banks including Umpqua Bank and Community Bank, provide significant program support, MacBaker said.

The banks “support what we do by giving grants so we can reach out in the community and help,” MacBaker said.

To learn more, contact MacBaker at 541-963-3186, debbie@ccno.org or Community Connection’s Enterprise office at 541-426-3840.

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