A non-profit in Boston helps families manage money, plan ahead and save for their goals. (Photo/Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston program guides Latinos to save and become homeowners

Like many immigrants, Anny Bautista had a dream: to become a homeowner.

But for the single mother of three, buying a home was just that – a dream too far to reach.

Bautista had filed for bankruptcy. She had no savings, and her credit score was a stumbling block keeping her off the road to financial success.

“I had a lot of debt. I needed to get my credit score higher, because without a credit score, you can’t do anything. You can’t buy a car, or buy a house,” said the Dominican native residing in Stoughton, Mass.

Five years ago, Bautista, 45, picked up a flyer that changed her life. The flyer announced Compass Working Capital, a Boston-based non-profit organization that educates and helps low-income families reach their financial goals by building savings and repairing their credit scores.

Bautista, a medical record coordinator, didn’t hesitate to contact the organization and quickly signed up.

She enrolled in the Individual Development Account Program (IDA), one of the different programs at Compass, which gives students like Bautista financial coaching and also offers a savings account where participants save between $25 and $75 a month. Compass then triplicate the savings, so if a participant saves $75, the maximum amount, Compass adds an additional $225 to the account.

After two years of being in the program, Bautista’s credit climbed 85 points, and she saved almost $16,000, which she accomplished with Compass’ contribution to her savings, and by reducing her expenses.

In two years, Bautista’s dream came true.

Bautista had enough money to put toward a down payment and cover the initial costs for a two-family home, where she now lives with her family.

“I feel good. I achieved what I wanted, and in the long run the house is ours, not somebody else’s,” said the Compass graduate, who was a renter for 18 years. “I don’t think I would have accomplished this by myself.”

Like Bautista, more than 500 families in Massachusetts, the vast majority Hispanic, have benefited from Compass’ programs, some of which are geared toward buying a house, starting a business, and saving and accessing college education.

All the programs are designed to help the organization’s main purpose: “to give people a chance to get out of poverty, achieve their financial goals and get them get on the pathway to financial security,” said Sherry Riva, who founded Compass Working Capital in 2005.

The organization’s impact reaches beyond the people it helps, Riva explained.

“The work that we do in individual level with families absolutely contributes to economic growth,” Riva said. “When people are earning more money, when they’re saving more, when they reduce their reliance on public benefits, when they’re starting businesses, when they’re buying homes and paying property taxes, it helps the economy.”

The non-profit organization operates on a $500,000 budget generated by donors, grants and earned revenue from fees Compass obtains giving financial coaching to other non-profit institutions that work with low-income families.

The organization not only helps people like Bautista achieve their goals through savings, but it also encourages its students to earn more money by furthering their education, finding better-paying jobs or by simply asking for a raise.

Sandra Suarez’s earnings are up 50 percent from the time she enrolled in Compass in 2005.

She wanted to buy a home, and for that she was told she needed to earn more money, so she was motivated to seek new job opportunities.

“Compass taught me to advocate for myself, which was hard, especially for a Latina and growing up low-income. I felt just lucky to have a job,” said the single mother of two, who was swamped in debt when she sought for Compass’ help. “Advocating for myself and saying ‘this is what I am worth’… they empowered me to do that.”

Suarez, 34, went back to her employer, a senior service center in Lynn, Mass., and told them about her goals and her need to take a better-paying job. To her surprise, Suarez was offered higher pay to stay at her job. And she did.

In 2010, Suarez was offered a job as an operational manager at Compass, where she currently works full-time in addition to her other job.

One year after enrolling in Compass, Suarez paid off $7,000 in debt, improved her credit score by 150 points, and saved $10,000. In 2009, Suarez had accomplished her goal – she finally became the owner of a brand-new duplex home in Lynn, Mass.

“My big dream was to buy a home, and I thought it would never happen,” said Suarez, who is also saving for her daughters’ college. “I am so proud of myself and that I have been able to give this life to my family. Now I am financially stable and getting ahead.”

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