Assisting People with Housing: Famicos Foundation

by Pat Cichowicz

For years the American dream has been defined by owning your own home. Most Americans sometime aspire to, or at least admire, the goal of owning a house. To the nation’s poor this is usually totally out of reach. A small group of dedicated professionals are organized to make home ownership a reality for low-income families.

Famicos Foundation began as a housing organization 25 years ago. It is probably the oldest community development housing operation in Cleveland, boasts Sister Joan Gallagher, CSA, the associate director of Famicos.

With a crew of only 10 people, Famicos, under the direction of James Williams, sets out to find houses that not only provide a good home for a family but can feasibly be rehabilitated to the strict City of Cleveland codes.

Once the home is located, Famicos purchases it for $6,000 to $10,000 by buying fire damaged houses or those taken in drug raids or by the city for code violations. It is then up to Ken Tench to write up specifications and estimates for its rehabilitation.

As a member of a larger group, The Cleveland Housing Network, they then bid for funds from the city, state or Federal grant and loan programs. Cleveland Housing Network is a corporation of 12 neighborhood groups that pool their resources to more efficiently deal with neighborhood housing problems. Cleveland Housing Network inspects the intended property, approves the funds, and asks for bids from minority contractors to do the work.

During the period of renovation, the property manager seeks a family with needs that fit this particular house. The prospective homeowner’s income and background are checked in the same way a bank screens a prospective borrower. Once the family is “fitted” to a home, a sliding scale is used to determine the monthly payment and length of the mortgage. The family is encouraged to make choices in the renovation process like choosing the colors of paint and carpeting.

The property managers keep in touch with the homeowners after the property is sold, and can help with future maintenance needs. Famicos follows the Cleveland Housing Network’s code for rent-to-own leases.

Are they nice homes? “Well I love mine,” says Diane Wilson, who is not only a Famicos homeowner, but is also a property manager for Famicos. She said that Famicos provides safe, affordable, quality housing for low-income families. Last year Famicos put 35 families into their own homes, and in total they have renovated somewhere near 300 homes.