Anthony’s Story

Anthony’s Story: Homeownership Achieved

When Anthony Spencer signed the paperwork to purchase his new home, it marked the end of a journey toward homeownership that took years to achieve.

Amid the handshakes and congratulations that followed, Anthony stepped away from the table to compose himself.

“I was so overcome with joy,” he said.

Growing up, Anthony’s family did not own their own home. His grandparents did, however, and he has long aspired to follow in their footsteps.

“My grandfather and grandmother had seven children,” he said. “Neither one of them got out of elementary school. They came here as migrant workers from down south like a lot of families did, yet he found a way to become a homeowner. That was honorable.”

So after Anthony and his former wife began renting a home on the east side of Kalamazoo in 2001 with their two sons, they made an agreement with their landlord: If he ever decided to sell the house, he would give Anthony the chance to buy it.

But when that time came, Anthony was in the midst of some big life changes. He was going through a divorce and had started working toward an education degree after more than 20 years of driving buses for Kalamazoo Public Schools. He struggled to qualify for a mortgage.

“The system that we’re under says that your (credit) score is this, and you’re a number,” he said. “It didn’t matter that I’d been at my job for 20 years. It didn’t matter that I’d paid my bills on time.

“You get frustrated when you’re doing what you think you should be doing. You need to hear ‘yes,’ and you’re only hearing ‘no.’ I’m trying to do my part to be a productive member of my community. I’m a military veteran with overseas service to my country; a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen; worked my entire life to serve this community. I’m trying to become a homeowner, and instead of people working with you, everybody’s telling you ‘no.’”

First steps toward ‘yes’

Anthony eventually connected with Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, a funded partner of United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region that aims to revitalize neighborhoods and foster homeownership in Kalamazoo County. He began taking homeownership classes through KNHS at night, the first step of what would be a two-year process.

“When I was blessed to connect with KNHS, those ‘no’s started turning to ‘maybe’s and ‘yes’s,” he said. “These people – I just don’t have the adjectives to describe how well they treated me. They didn’t talk down to anyone, but they made sure you understood where you were on a level where you were confident and comfortable.”

Once Anthony finished the required classes, he began the long process of clearing up his credit history, with the constant guidance and encouragement of KNHS staff. He learned how to identify inaccuracies in his credit score and how to resolve them, as well as make arrangements to clear judgments against him.

“They made it clear they had a process, and if I followed the process, I would reach my goals. So it wasn’t that they did it for me, or gave me some basic guidelines and sent me on my way. They were comprehensive about what needed to be done, and showed me how to get there. They held my hand through the entire process.”

Anthony said that the staff he worked with was every bit as excited as he was when he was finally able to close on his home. And his landlord, with whom he made an agreement with all those years ago, never gave up on him, despite receiving other offers for the house.

“You don’t have the words to accurately tell people ‘thank you’ when they go out of their way to help you,” he said.

Life has since settled down for Anthony. He has remarried, just finished his second year teaching third graders at Arcadia Elementary, and at 49 years old is thrilled to be a first-time homeowner.

“Homeownership makes you feel more vested in your community,” he said. “For me to be able to do that, that’s huge. It’s a quaint, small home, but I raised my sons in that home. They’re comfortable coming back there. My grandchildren, they’ve raised up playing in that backyard. They’ll always be able to come there and know they’ve got a home somewhere.”

Anthony Spencer
Anthony Spencer, welcomed to the neighborhood nearly two decades ago, is now the one greeting new neighbors.

Join United Way and our funded partners in helping more people achieve their goals for a better life. Visit our income page to find out how.

Check out KNHS online to learn more about how they foster homeownership and change the story for families and individuals.