Niesha’s lifelong dream has always been to have a home of her own. Born in Asheville, she spent the better part of her childhood in foster care out-of-state until she returned to stay with her great grandmother. “I went through a lot coming up,” Niesha shares. “Being in foster care and going from home to home, I always wanted to secure my own home.” After graduating high school, she was able to get her own apartment. It was the first time she remembers feeling free.
Soon after, Niesha had her first son and the weight of making ends meet as a single mom settled on her shoulders. Niesha learned how to navigate accessing benefits for her family while working to earn the income she needed to survive. She was able to qualify for Section 8 Housing subsidy and moved into the Deaverview Apartments community in West Asheville. As Niesha’s family grew, she intensified her focus on becoming a homeowner, despite the fact that she had many hurdles to overcome to get there.
Niesha calls herself a” hurdle jumper.” Even though she qualified for Section 8, homeownership was still her number one goal. She became aware of USDA’s Homeownership programs for low to moderate income earners and applied for a Direct Loan. She was turned down and learned that her credit score was a big hurdle she would need to overcome. Niesha laments that no one had taught her about credit when she was young and how important it is to accessing finance and lending services. She started to call her creditors and advocate for herself, learning they will often work with you to consolidate payments or lower overall debts owed. Slowly but surely, she repaired her credit and grew her score from the 500’s into the high 700’s. Niesha now considers herself a “credit evangelist,” making sure to share her experience with others. “Now when I see somebody,” she says, “that's the first thing I ask them. I say, ‘How is your credit score? Oh, it’s bad? Then here’s how you’ve got to fix it.’”
The next hurdle Niesha had to overcome was securing the right balance of income and financing she needed to purchase a home she could afford. That’s when Niesha connected with Kelly Nossiter, who oversees MHO's Down Payment Assistance program. Niesha learned about MHO through Shaunda Sandford, who leads Resident Services and Family Self Sufficiency for the Asheville Housing Authority. Kelly and Niesha first met in September of 2020. Niesha was mortgage ready and a great candidate for MHO’s Down Payment Assistance, which provides up to $30,000 in additional lending to qualified first-time homebuyers in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Madison counties.
Niesha faced yet more hurdles. Housing prices were on the rise and inventory was limited, especially in the areas and in the price range Niesha qualified for through USDA’s Direct Loan program. During the height of the pandemic, someone hit and totaled her car. The car was nearly paid off, but now she would have to finance a replacement. Niesha shared that Kelly’s support helped her manage these setbacks. “Kelly inspired me,” Niesha shares. “She stuck in there with me when I got in panic mode and nothing seemed to be going right. She would say, ‘Everyone experiences these bumps in the road and you're going to be okay."
In 2022, Kelly called Niesha with a new opportunity: MHO was building a dozen affordable townhomes in the Cherry Blossom Cove community in Swannanoa. Would she be interested in buying one? Kelly connected Niesha to Megan Kirby, who coordinates MHO’s Self-Help and Turn-Key Homeownership programs. After checking out the neighborhood where the townhomes were under construction, Niesha knew she’d found a place to call home. She recalls her first meeting with Megan with a broad smile, sharing “She let me pick which townhome I wanted first, before anyone else!” This summer, when construction was complete, Niesha moved into her new home. She had finally, at long last, achieved her dream of owning a home of her very own.
Niesha loves her new neighborhood. It’s quiet and peaceful. It’s full of families with children and pets. Her dogs Mocha and Chico love the new yard. A niece and a sister already lived nearby, so they often get together for meals and to play cards. Her new home is convenient to plenty of shops, restaurants, and other services. She says she frequents the neighborhood Ingles and her youngest son loves the food from a local Mexican cafe. Most importantly, she found a daycare close by for her two-year-old granddaughter, Ari.
Being “Granny,” as Ari calls her, wasn’t part of the plan when Niesha started her homeownership journey, but she is glad to have her middle son and his young daughter stay with her in her new home as he learns to navigate the responsibilities of raising a family of his own. Niesha is spending a little more time in the kitchen lately, cooking some of the same dishes for Ari that she made for her three boys when they were growing up. “We love our rice,” Niesha shares, owing to her family’s Gullah Geechee heritage. “And I always incorporate some vegetables. It makes Granny feel good to see her eat every drop.”
When asked if she was surprised by anything throughout her homebuying experience or if there was something she wasn’t expecting, Niesha answered right away. “To be honest with you, I really didn't expect it to happen. I always thought I was going to keep hearing ‘No.’ I was used to getting a ‘No’ for everything. Mountain Housing Opportunities has been a blessing. I never thought I'd be a homeowner. It makes me feel so empowered, like I really did something. And I’m building a foundation for my kids.”
For Niesha, it always goes back to family. “I want them to always have a home. We don't have a lot and we don't come from wealth, so you want your children to be able to have something. If anything happens to me, I want my kids to be able to have a home.”