“To have this freedom feels like a dream”: Meet Homeowner Rayven Settler

“To have this freedom feels like a dream”: Meet Homeowner Rayven Settler

January 13 was a momentous day for Rayven Settler, Yakama, and her son. After years of dreaming, planning, and hard work, it was finally move-in day at the home she had just purchased, making her a first-time homebuyer at last.

Settler recently sat down to talk with us about her journey to homeownership, how NAYA’s Homeownership Program helped, and why years of persevering have all been worth it.

What’s your relationship with NAYA?
My name is Rayven Settler. I’ve been a community member for a long time. It took me a long time to make it through NAYA’s whole homeownership program. I started by taking classes in 2007. I went through the homebuyer education classes and financial wellness, but because of my income level at the time, I didn’t immediately follow up on my plan. It was a daunting idea and, as a single mother, I wasn’t in a financial position yet to buy a home.

How long were you thinking of becoming a homeowner before you got involved in NAYA’s programs?
When I went with an aunt to classes is 2007, I thought there’s no way I can afford to buy a home. It was just mind blowing. I didn’t think I could own a home here in Portland on my own, especially as a single mother.

It was important for me to give my son the best possible education, so I enrolled him in private high school. With tuition being thousands of dollars each year, the thought of buying a home too felt out of reach.

I knew others had gone through the program and so I knew it was possible in theory, but I was still discouraged.

What changed?
It didn’t hit me until five years ago. I began thinking, “I might be able to swing this.” I figured that I was already paying the same amount in rent that I would for a mortgage. So I went back to class again and got recertified. I started taking financial wellness classes seriously.

I learned about the importance of building credit, so I got my first credit card and started building credit. Loretta, who taught NAYA’s classes at the time, was very encouraging. She reminded me that it doesn’t just happen overnight and to keep at it.

Once my son graduated from high school, I was able to focus on myself. I got myself situated with work, moving from paralegal, to getting training, and then getting a promotion. I was finally earning a living wage in Portland.

How was the process of working with Team NAYA for you?
Kevin at NAYA picked up where Loretta left off with being so super supportive. I remember him telling me, “We wouldn’t tell you that you could do this if we didn’t truly believe that you could. Stay with the process and we’ll be here to hold your hand.”

I remember that making a huge difference because I was also becoming disheartened thinking that the system isn’t set up for people like me.

Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
When I was finally ready to work with banks, I remember one lender telling me, “This would work out better if you were married and there were two of you.” They also suggested that I ask my parents to give me money for a down payment as a gift.

That’s not how it is in Indian Country. My whole life, I’ve lived only off of what I made. The way that I was raised, if you couldn’t afford it, you don’t get it. If you really wanted something, then you saved your money until you could buy it. So before I took the Financial Wellness class, I didn’t yet have any credit—no credit cards, nothing financed. Back then, I paid my bills but that’s it. To creditors, I just didn’t exist.

And there is no big pot of wealth in Indian Country for parents to pass down to other generations. As a single mother, I was shocked they would say that and had to tell them, “No it’s just me. How can you help me?”

But you made it. How was the home buying process?
Kevin encouraged me to start an Individual Development Account (IDAs). That really helped. [IDAs are savings accounts that support people saving money for home purchases, small businesses, and education by providing matching funds for each dollar a person saves. For example, NAYA’s IDA program gives participants three dollars for every dollar a client saves.]

Being locked into a 30-year loan was still intimidating. Everyone at NAYA kept saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’ll happen eventually. We’re going to make this work. What are you afraid of?” Having the people at NAYA who do this for a living—who really know their profession—tell me I could do it, that I was doing fine, made a difference.

I thought about my son. I wanted something I could pass something on to him…not debt, but something real.

At that point, I found out what I could afford and was literally jumping in. At the beginning, I made offers on six different places. In this Portland market, none of these offers were even considered, which was discouraging.

Originally, I had been looking at larger houses. Then I realized, if I bought one of these houses I’d end up house-rich and money-poor [needing to spend most income on mortgage payments]. I had to think, “What do I really want?”

Being more realistic, I knew I wanted to be in Southeast Portland. I found this house, and saw there were five cedar trees on property. “That’s medicine,” I thought. Then I saw the hardwood floors, the dead-end street that had kids riding bikes on it. It fit. It just totally fit. I made an offer and within 24 hours, the owner said yes.

You’re considered a success story at NAYA. What would you tell people considering participating but not sure if it would be helpful for them or not?
I’d tell them to believe the professionals at NAYA—believe the folks that have these jobs who are out advocating on our behalf and who believe in us. They take a hard and realistic look at what you have going on and then spend the time ironing out the wrinkles and get you on the right path. Emotional support is also what they do. It might not be part of their job description, but they are very supportive.

Believe them, and then do everything in your power to prove them right.

You are a worthy person. Most of us are already paying a mortgage already—it’s just for someone else. If you think of it that way, it’s really not that much of a leap. It’s scary but do it anyway. It’s worth it.

Now I wonder what I was so afraid of. It’s like a dream come true. It’s little things too. Like my brother has a puppy. Where we used to live, that puppy was never allowed in our home. Now they all can come over whenever they want. I’ve picked out my own paint colors.

Driving up, I can say, “This is my house.” Sometimes I’m just shocked.

It’s all coming together and it’s real. To have this kind of freedom feels like a dream.

To learn more about NAYA’s Homeownership Program visit https://nayapdx.org/services/homeownership/.