One of the most striking features in Kacey and Richard Leach’s NSW mid north coast home is a wall covered in photos of babies, toddlers and teenagers, school graduations, weddings, and other family milestones.
With each new picture hook hammered into the wall, the couple experience a buzz of satisfaction, knowing it’s their wall and their family home.
Before buying land and building their home, they had struggled to find affordable long-term rental accommodation for their eight children (six still live with them). They were desperate to put an end to constant moving and cramped living conditions.
‘We were living in emergency housing because we had so many kids and it was hard to find affordable rentals’, explains Kacey. ‘We’d had trouble for years—especially once we had more than three kids. I think the kids had gotten used to lots of moving, but it would still cause lots of fights … because they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to stay at their school and so on …’
Richard agrees: ‘I think that was the biggest problem, the instability for the kids …’
The couple had approached a mainstream lender about applying for a housing loan, but ‘on paper’ their financial situation looked unappealing. ‘And to make things worse, I have a disability’, says Kacey, ‘which means Richard has to stay home to look after me, and wasn’t working full time’.
The tide turned for the family when Richard and Kacey picked up a leaflet, promoting IBA’s Home Ownership Information Sessions from outside its Coffs Harbour office.
‘We didn’t know about IBA…’ says Kacey. ‘We went in and Richard [Burton, then Manager, IBA Homes Coffs Harbour] was standing at the front desk.
I said, “I don’t think I’m eligible for this but can you have a look?” and he said “Come in and we will have a talk”’.
IBA’s Indigenous Home Ownership program can provide an affordable entry into home ownership for Indigenous Australians, particularly those on lower incomes, and first home buyers who have difficulty obtaining loan finance from a mainstream commercial lender.
IBA’s free one-on-one Home Ownership Information Sessions give Indigenous Australians an opportunity to explore their eligibility and financial readiness for home ownership. The sessions can also assist those who may need to do some financial ‘homework’ or other preparation to be eligible to apply for a loan.
After their information session, Richard and Kacey took away a housing loan Expression of Interest form. A chance encounter in town with Richard Burton some time later encouraged them to put their eligibility to the test by submitting the form.
Once approved, the couple were added to IBA’s Expression of Interest Register and were later invited to apply for a housing loan.
Among the factors used to determine the amount Kacey and Richard could borrow were their employment income, rental history, housing and living expenses, their credit and saving history and their eligibility for the First Home Owner Grant Scheme.
‘IBA asked about our rental history, and we knew we had all our statements up to date … So while it wasn’t a deposit, they could look at that and see our rent had always been paid on time, and they were taking that into account …’, says Richard, ‘They looked at our credit history, and went right into it’.
Even with an application for a construction loan under consideration by IBA, Richard says he remained sceptical about his family’s chances.
‘I didn’t think it was real’, he says. ‘I’m a bit of a sceptic, and I was saying to Kacey, “Don’t worry about it, they won’t give us money, don’t get too excited”’.
‘I think we have a good balance between us’, says Kacey. ‘I am more of a dreamer, and ask “why not?” You have to ask “what’s the worst that could happen?”, but also ask “what’s the best that could happen?”’
The ‘best’ occurred when Kacey rang IBA to check on the progress of the application.
‘Richard Burton rang back and said, “If you can find a piece of land to build on, we can loan you ‘X’ amount of dollars.” I said, “No you can’t, no you can’t!”’, laughs Kacey, recalling her disbelief.
Their excitement dimmed a little once they began researching land prices in central Coffs Harbour.
‘We went around all the real estate agents and thought, “Gee, everything’s already too expensive, and we won’t have anything left to build with”’, says Richard.
Then one agent suggested the couple visit a new seaside housing estate a 30-minute drive from town.
‘When we came out here to have a look, we just loved it, because there’s the beach, the park, all the stuff for the kids … and a school up the road,’ says Richard. The couple decided to buy a block on the estate.
With ongoing support from IBA’s Indigenous Home Ownership program staff, Kacey and Richard worked with a local building company to construct their new four-bedroom home. In early 2015, the family moved in.
The surfboards, bikes and sports gear scattered across the yard suggests the children love their family’s new stability and active outdoor lifestyle.
‘One of our sons often goes surfing early in the morning’, says Richard. ‘He’s studying at TAFE … and working … but on his spare days he’s out there surfing, which is good.
‘And it’s nice to own our own place, it’s freedom’, he says. ‘When you rent, you never know are they going to want the house back. A couple of times our rental was sold and the new owners wanted to live there, and there’s nothing you can do. Now we have so much more security.
‘Everyone is a lot less tense now, and the kids have put pictures up on their bedroom walls’.
‘It’s one of the first things I did when we moved in’, adds Kacey, ‘hung all my photos on the wall, because that’s not something you can do when you’re in a rental’.
Observing that some habits die hard, though, Richard laughs as he describes the occasional evenings when, even with all the extra room the family now have, he finds all six children ‘camped out’ in just one bedroom, watching television together.
Having gained an economic foothold through home ownership, Kacey and Richard hope to use that platform to explore the viability of owning a business in the fitness industry.
Kacey encourages other Indigenous Australians to start their own conversation via an IBA Home Ownership Information Session: ‘Just give it a go, it’s worth it. You just have to ask for that help. IBA helped us all the way through, and even now if we went to them and said we had an issue, they would still be there to help’.
‘Don’t sit around ruling yourself out or thinking about why it won’t work. Just have a go and talk to someone; you never know where it might lead’.