Making An American Dream Come True

Laulea Smythe and daughter Reign in their new home in Ele‘ele | Amanda C. Gregg photo

Laulea Smythe and daughter Reign in their new home in Ele‘ele | Amanda C. Gregg photo

It’s the American Dream that Laulea Smythe and Tyson and Ashley Relacion didn’t think would come true – not until the County Home-Buyer Loan Program helped them turn it into a reality. Thanks to the program, which is administered by Kaua’i County with revolving federal funds, in 2011 the Relacions purchased a home in Kapa’a and Smythe purchased one in Ele’ele.

The two families are now reveling in homeownership, and say that getting the county’s help to become first-time homebuyers was one of the best decisions they ever made.

Smythe says she was waiting for five years to get a home, but was never “mortgage ready.”

“Yeah, I got the reject letter from the bank,” she says. She signed up for the first-time homebuyer loan class because a friend had taken the class and ended up buying a foreclosed property in the Salt Pond area.

“The amount they paid was awesome,” she says. Within a few months, Smythe was in the class, which was held on two Saturdays. There she learned about financial literacy and how to prepare for buying a home: “What closing costs are, and looking at one’s debt-to-income ratio,” she explains. “What it alerted me to was with my debt-to-income ratio, they weren’t going to let me buy a house. So they talked about bringing down debt and what you need to do to get there. It helped me get that foot in the door.”

A teacher and single mom of 8-year-old Reign, Smythe wanted a place that she and her daughter could call their own.

“It took me a while to pay it down,” Smythe says, adding she was lucky to live with her parents while saving. “It’s so nice to have a place of our own. Of course, I am so grateful to my parents. But my daughter always wanted people to sleep over, and I felt bad about having an extra kid when we were living with them. I didn’t want to be disrespectful.”

Now the Smythes live in a new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the side of the highway in Lawai, but set back from the road. And Smythe couldn’t be happier.

“I am just blessed,” she says. “I’m so lucky.”

The county began the program in 1997 to assist low-income Kaua’i residents become first-time home-buyers. The county finances its loans with federal funds, with the goal to increase homeownership opportunities for lower-income households. The two loans to purchase an existing home require a minimum down payment of 1.5 percent, and the construction loan requires ownership of the site and at least a 25 percent equity position. All loans are at 3 percent interest. The maximum loan amount is $184,490.

The Relacion ohana (from left): Taylor, Ashley, Siana, Kekeona, Tyson and Cody at home in Kapa‘a | Photo courtesy Relacion ohana

The Relacion ohana (from left): Taylor, Ashley, Siana, Kekeona, Tyson and Cody at home in Kapa‘a | Photo courtesy Relacion ohana

The Relacions first heard about the program six years ago from Faye Rapozo, while they were on the HUD program, Ashley Relacion says. “But we actually took the home-buyer’s class about 10 years ago. We took the class because we knew that eventually one day in our lives we would want to purchase a home of our own, because at that time we already had one child and were already thinking about the future.”

At the time they took the class, the Relacions had two little ones. But about two years ago, they had a tragedy in the family.

“My brother died, and my husband and I took in my brother’s two children, who were 1 and 3 at the time,” she says.

With a sudden doubling of children, Ashley Relacion, a health aide at Kilauea Elementary School, whose husband is a police officer with KPD, says the program was a total blessing for her family, as “children are expensive to raise.”

Their children are Taylor, 12; Cody, 9; Siana, 5; and Kekeona, 3. “We love ’em all,” she says.

Today, their blended family lives in their first home in Kapa’a on Kula Mau’u Street. “Our home is in a great neighborhood with great neighbors,” Ashley says of the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home. “And it fits our family just perfect.”

She says the class helped her more than she initially thought it would.

“It showed us the process of locating homes, what percent of down payments that we would need depending on our credit, and the going price of a home,” Relacion says.

“The class even went into some financial advising, like showing us some ways of saving money by eliminating overspending and trying to live within our means to save for a down payment.”

It was an emotional experience to finally purchase their first home.

“It was very exciting, yet very scary at the same time,” she says. “Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments you will ever make in your lifetime, and if you jump the gun and purchase at the wrong time in your life, things can go south really fast.”

But it was all worth it. “There are actually no words to describe the feeling you get when you purchase your home and finally get those keys in your hand, knowing that this is your home and a new chapter in your family’s life will start, and new memories will be made here,” she says. “Not to mention not having a landlord telling you ‘the grass is too long,’ or ‘where’s the rent?’ The house is yours. It’s a wonderful feeling and experience.”

To learn more about the county’s homebuyer loan program, go to Kauai.gov/housing.

The next homebuyer class is May 18, 5-9 p.m. at the County Building, 4444 Rice St., Lihu’e, Piikoi Rooms A and B email desiree@hawaiiancommunity.net

To register, call 632-2070.

For more information, go to hawaiiancommunity.net.

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