At age 84, Lily Garcia is a first-time homeowner.
She’s beautifully dressed as she walks into HMK Ltd., a property management company in West Dallas, to sign the contract on her new home. She's petite — maybe 5 feet tall — but she sits at the negotiating table with authority and marks page after page with two X's. She doesn't have a signature.
Flanked by a notary and her daughter, Garcia says she's ready to own a home in West Dallas. Many of her nine children were born there. That's where her friends are, her doctor, her pharmacy. She's dug in.
Her daughter Frances Burciaga says that's why the last year has been so difficult.
"She was under so much stress not knowing what was going to happen, you know,” she said. “Where am I going to move?"
When the City of Dallas strengthened housing standards last fall, the 305 rental homes owned by HMK Ltd. were no longer up to city code. At first, the landlord decided to shutter the properties instead of making the necessary repairs, which he said would have cost millions.
Since most of the tenants were paying just $300 to $500 a month in rent, people struggled to find a place to move. The final deadline to vacate was Oct. 2. The majority of the people in these homes left on their own. Six families are being evicted. HMK offered to sell the rest of the homes to tenants; 135 of them were game, including Lily Garcia.
"She loves this area, this is the only area she knows,” Burciaga says of her mother. “It's West Dallas. You know how long it's been here: forever. She's comfortable here."
Most of the new homeowners will make a mortgage payment of $570 a month, including property taxes. Garcia is one of seven new homeowners to agree to a different kind of deal. HMK co-owner Khraish Khraish offered all his tenants in their 80s something called a Life Estate.
"These octogenarians have lived an independent life up to this point and without any options I just didn't know what else to do for them,” he said. “And I didn't have the heart just to turn my back on them."
The Life Estate is an eight-year mortgage with payments right around $300 a month. Garcia will pay $315. At the end of her life, the property returns to HMK Ltd. If she's lives there for more than eight years, she'll stay in her house payment-free.
"Their homes are secured now for the rest of their lives. It's a payment that's very affordable to them, and an environment that is very familiar to them in a community that knows them very well,” Khraish said.
Garcia and her grown son, Joe, had been sharing their current rental house. HMK says he can stay there for another two months.
She has already started moving her things into the new house. Signing the contract makes it official. With two final Xs, the house in hers putting an end to dozens of community meetings, countless worries and months of uncertainty. Garcia does have one final question though.
Can she paint the house? Yes. But as for the color?
"I don't care,” she said laughingly.
She's just happy the choice is hers to make.
We first met Garcia last in our series No Place To Go, which focused on the housing crunch in rapidly gentrifying West Dallas. Explore the multimedia project and the timeline below.