Latino Nonprofit Helps Immigrant Family Buy Affordable Home
By Erica Johnson
Photos by Yvonne Kennedy
What Frederico and Erika Jasso
had could have been the envy of most young immigrant couples: a strong
marriage, two college degrees they earned in Mexico, two well-paying jobs,
and enough money saved to shop for a $200,000 home. What they didnt
have was any idea of what has happened to Oaklands housing prices.
According to Erika Jasso, although theyd saved for the down payment,
it was difficult to find a decent home within their initial budget of
$190,000. "After we started looking at the houses we thought, Well,
$190,000 is going to be very hard to find," she said, sitting
at her kitchen table behind a glass of freshly picked flowers. "So
after that we thought maybe we could afford $200,000, possibly $220,000.
But the houses that we looked at that we really liked were $290,000, almost
As the much-publicized dramatic escalation of home prices reaches even
working class neighborhoods like Oaklands primarily Latino Fruitvale
district, the Jassos bought their first home with the help of an experimental
new home-buying partnership that the programs organizers hope will
spread to similar communities in Oakland, and perhaps in other cities
Nona Leone is the real estate developer for the Unity Council, the Spanish-
speaking community group that was half of the partnership. Leone said
the program is using the Unity Council as a prototype for larger change
in the Oakland community. "There are a lot of people [in Oakland]
who do not realize they can afford a home," said Leone. "So
this is just one way we can make them see it is possible. Our ultimate
goal is to revitalize the community and increase home ownership for low
to moderate-income families."
According to Leone, the Unity Council had the idea and PMI, a San Francisco-based
mortgage company, provided the seed money as part of a nationwide commitment
to expand affordable housing for low-income families.
Rosy Davalos, the project consultant for PMI, said the mortgage company
gave the Unity Council $200,000 to create a revolving loan cycle to buy,
rehabilitate, and sell homes. The Unity Council used money from the fund
to buy a Fruitvale house specifically to resell it to a family like the
Jassos. PMI gave the Unity Council an additional grant for $30,000, which
the Unity Council used to remodel the home. According to Davalos, the
Unity Council sold the home directly to the Jassos for below market value.
Newspaper reports say the Jassos purchased the home for $190,000.
"One of our first goals when we moved to this country [from Mexico]
was to own a home," said Erika Jasso, 30, showing off the modern
silver and black kitchen appliances. "Now that weve done it,
it feels like all of our hard work has paid off. Were finally getting
The Jassos, who moved to the Bay Area from Mexico five years ago, rented
a small, one-bedroom apartment in Hayward for four years. A year and a
half ago, they began searching the Bay Area for a house they could afford.
Erika is an administrative assistant who purchases supplies for an automotive
warehouse in Newark. Frederico installs network equipment for a San Francisco
While shopping one day, a merchant told the Jassos about the Unity Councils
home ownership center. Desperate, they signed up for the Councils
free workshops, which teach families the financial aspects of home ownership.
A year later, the Jassos were moving into their home in Fruitvale.
According to a recent newspaper report, less than 1% of housing in Oakland
is vacant. Oaklands Fruitvale district is no exception. Over half
the population of 50,000 is Latino. The average household income is only
$36,226. Most families live in poverty and almost one-fifth of the population
can not speak English. Like most areas in Oakland, there is little vacant
land. As a result, opportunities for new housing construction are limited.
In the 1980s, housing costs in Fruitvale climbed much faster than household
incomes. Eventually, houses began crowding up and deteriorating. This
created a high number of vacant, foreclosed, and distressed properties.
The Unity Council, based in Fruitvale and founded in 1964, is one of the
oldest Latino non-profit community organizations in the nation. The Council
offers senior citizen programs, family literacy courses, and childrens
services. The home ownership workshops the Jassos went through offers
financial counseling to families trying to buy homes.
The PMI Groups subsidiary, PMI Mortgage Insurance Co., is one of
the largest private mortgage insurers in the nation. PMI has given grants
to other affordable housing initiatives, such as Habitat for Humanity
and Neighborhood Housing Services of America.
The Jassos said that without the Unity Council as an intermediary, they
would have never known the financial responsibilities involved in purchasing
a home. "We were starting from zero," said Frederico Jasso.
"We didnt know where to start. The Unity Council gave us a
very good idea of the home buying process, like how to apply for the loan
and the importance of credit. In our country, usually you have the money,
you look for a house that you like, and you pay cash for it. Here there
are a lot of legal aspects."
Additionally, the program allowed the Jassos to buy a freshly painted
house with a remodeled kitchen and new carpet and linoleum. "Without
the Unity Council, it would have been very hard to find a house like this
for such a low price," said Erika Jasso. "We didnt have
to spend extra money to refurbish the house."
Leone said Los Angeles, New Mexico, Washington DC, and Houston have been
targeted to participate in the program. As a result of the success of
the Fruitvale project, the Navajo Partnership for Housing, the selected
community group in Arizona, has already bought the first two homes to
According to Davalos, PMI is seeking other big lenders to participate
in the program. So far, said Davalos, they have not found any interested
Erika Jasso said her friends and co-workers want to know more about the
program. "If the program gets the promotion and the funds, it will
be big," she said. "And it will be very nice for a lot of families
here in Oakland."
The Unity Council recently bought another Fruitvale home four blocks from
the Jassos and around the corner from a recreation center, an elementary
school, a police substation, and a Baptist church. This time, several
families, some who have gone through the Councils home ownership
workshops and some who have not, are interested in the home, said Leone.
Leone, who said program coordinators are looking for houses beyond Fruitvale
and all over Oakland, said she hopes the Unity Council will attract families
of all ethnicities. "The primary residents in Fruitvale are Latinos,"
said Leone. "But we dont specifically target them. We are well
known in the Latino community so we probably grab their attention more.
The majority of our participation, about 85 to 90% are Latinos, with the
rest being a diverse mix."
According to Glenn Brown, a young man who grew up in the small house across
the street from the Jassos, the renovation and sale of the house has already
changed his neighborhood for the better. He said that before the Jassos
bought the house it was an eyesore. According to Brown, the dilapidated
house was in desperate need of a paint job, and it looked as if it had
been broken into several times. Although Browns mother owns their
home, he said he thinks the program is a great idea that other families
in Oakland should take advantage of.
"I think this is fabulous," Brown said. "Its a positive
step for the community. It will get people to strive for more. It will
invigorate them to try to own instead of rent. They need to do more houses
like this in this neighborhood."
For now, the Jassos plan to work slowly at making their new house more
like a home. Frederico is renovating the backyard gazebo and garage. Erika
is taking her time decorating the rooms. When asked if he has a say in
the decorating decisions or if he leaves it up to his wife, Frederico
laughed and sounded for a moment like many novice home-owning husbands.
"She says were decorating together," he said. "To
her, together means we go to the store, she picks everything
out, and I buy it."
Jassos new home and Fruitvale street.
exterior of the Jassos'renovated home.
Jassos are happy in their new home.