By: Avigail Oren
Quianna Wasler was frustrated. She wanted to purchase a home in Pittsburgh’s East End, and could not find a property within her budget. So one afternoon in 2011, she walked into the offices of East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI) to speak out about the unaffordable home prices in the neighborhood. The staff at ELDI referred Quianna to the Family Care Program at Open Hand Ministries (OHM), beginning a relationship between her family and OHM that endures six years later.
Open Hand Ministries, founded by four churches in Garfield and East Liberty, works with families to build wealth that they can invest in homes in the neighborhood. OHM helps families find vacant homes that can be rehabilitated, with the goal of building equity for the new homeowner and fighting back against the social inequality of the housing market.
“Before I worked with Open Hand” Quianna recalls, “I would see a house that I liked and I’d see a price and I’d see no path to get there. I didn’t understand what was affordable and what wasn’t affordable, what mortgage I should have based on my income, and other financial things that I wasn’t doing. So I just felt that there was no path for me to homeownership, that I’d be renting for the rest of my life, with nothing to pass down to my family, or stability.”
OHM matched Quianna with Bernadette and Andy Collins, who became her Family Care Team. Over the course of three years, Quianna met regularly at Bernadette and Andy’s house to work through the complex process of improving her credit, applying for a mortgage, and purchasing her first home. This November, she celebrated the four-year anniversary of moving in!
Between purchasing the house and moving in, however, OHM completely renovated the aging structure and significantly improved its energy efficiencies. Quianna arrived to the monthly Saturday workdays with her extended family in tow, which gave everyone a sense of ownership over the project. “Even to this day,” she says, “my Dad’s like, ‘I built this closet! I’m the one that hung these windows!’”
Quianna has laughter in her eyes when she says, “Homeownership is a scary, exciting thing!” She confesses that right before closing on her house, she felt a wave of anxiety about taking on such a big financial responsibility. One of her parents had recently lost a home to foreclosure, an experience that was stressful for Quianna and her four siblings. Would something similar happen to her? After four years, however, the worry has passed and it’s mostly satisfaction that remains. “It’s exciting because it’s mine,” she says, and “there’s no one who can tell me to leave as long as I’m paying my mortgage on time.” Her three kids each painted their room in the color they chose, and are able to make their spaces their own. She reflects, “It’s comforting to know that something is actually your home, and that you will continue to be there as long as you want to be there.”
In 2014, Quianna decided to give back to the OHM community. She became an Ally with Circles, a national program which OHM adopted as their Family Care Program. Circles builds supportive relationships between low-income families (Circle Leaders) and middle/upper-income community members (Circle Allies). Leaders, in partnership with their Allies and OHM staff, set goals and create plans to move towards financial stability.
“I had an amazing relationship with the family that supported me through the process [of buying a home] and I still consider them my friends,” Quianna recalls. She realized that she wanted to give back in the same way. Three years ago, Circle Leader Deshawn Daniels matched together with Quianna and Sarah Heppenstall. By early 2018 Deshawn and her family will move into the newly rehab’ed home that she has spent 3 years preparing to purchase. “When you start they tell you that it’s a two year volunteer commitment,” Quianna says with a smile, “but you develop a friendship and you’re more like family with each other, so the time doesn’t really matter after a while. We’re here for a reason and however long it takes to get there, you’re just here!”