With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many people began working from home. But for Kiarra Smith, home wasn’t where she was working from – it’s what she was working towards.

“Someone has to want to break the cycle and use the resources they have to move out and provide a better situation for their family,” Smith said. “I was that person for my family.”

Smith moved into a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment at the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency’s (MDHA) Neighborhood Housing in 2012. She began hearing about the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program offered by MDHA and attended informational meetings. Smith learned that in addition to acquiring important skills to raise credit scores and manage finances, the program initiates a goal-oriented plan, as well as an interest-bearing escrow account, in the name of each participant.

“I went to a meeting where they were talking about the FSS program, and I was immediately interested,” Smith said. “The escrow account was definitely an incentive for me.”

Ambitious and eager to take the next step in her life, Smith signed up and began the program on July 1, 2014.

Someone has to want to break the cycle and use the resources they have to move out and provide a better situation for their family. I was that person for my family.

Kiarra Smith, Former Neighborhood Housing Resident

While in the FSS program, Smith raised her credit score and even received a promotion at work. Wanting to further her education, she obtained an Associate of Science in Pre-nursing from Nashville State Community College. Through MDHA, she was awarded the Tennessee Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authority (TAHRA) Adult Continuing Education Scholarship to help her pay for books for school. She went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Public Health at Tennessee State University, where she graduated in 2020. She knew these advancements were all a part of the next step for her – buying a home of her own – and stayed focused in the homebuyer classes through the FSS program that she continued to attend.

“I extended my time in the program to give myself more time to prepare for the move,” Smith said. “Once I couldn’t extend my time in the program anymore, I was ready to go find my dream home!”

Smith had a mental checklist of what she wanted her future home to have.

“I was looking for a space with more than three bedrooms, more than two bathrooms, a front yard and a backyard and a garage,” Smith said. “I also wanted my tub and bath to be separate.”

After graduating from the FSS program in July 2021, Smith had saved enough in escrow through the program to cover the down payment for a new home in Clarksville. Just one month later, she closed on a home she fell in love with – complete with four-bedrooms, two-and-a-half-bathrooms and a garage.

“Everything doubled!” she says, comparing her previous apartment to her new home. “It fits me perfectly.”

Smith says her 11-year-old and 13-year-old daughters are thrilled to have their own bedrooms.

“My youngest chose the room at the front of the house because she likes to see when we pull up in the driveway,” Smith said. “My older daughter chose the room with the view of the backyard.”

Above the garage is Smith’s room – the largest bedroom. It also has Smith’s favorite feature of the house.

“When I sit in or walk into my room at night, I can see the moon through that window,” Smith says, motioning to a window shaped like half a circle above her bed. “It’s the perfect spot to see the moon and the stars at night. It’s so beautiful.”

She has enjoyed meeting neighbors and inviting friends and family to her home.

“My first time meeting some of the neighbors was Halloween when everyone came out to trick-or-treat and visit with each other,” Smith said. “It was so nice, and I can’t wait for more opportunities to get to know the other people who live in my neighborhood.”

In November, she hosted Thanksgiving for her family at her home for the first time.

“It was so nice to host my first holiday at my new home,” Smith said. “Everyone cooked and the table was full!”

After Thanksgiving, Smith invited MDHA Social Services Coordinator Sonya Russell-Presley to her home for a visit and tour. Russell-Presley has been providing Smith with case management via the FSS program since August 2018 and was excited to see another program participant achieve their dream of homeownership.

“I am very proud of Kiarra,” Russell-Presley said. “Her home is absolutely beautiful, and it is so fulfilling for me to see her overjoyed to be an official homeowner!”

Smith is hoping her story will inspire others currently living in affordable housing.

“The time I spent at Neighborhood Housing was a steppingstone for me,” she says. “Be patient. Use your time living in affordable housing to your advantage by bettering yourself and looking for opportunities to advance.”

Despite reaching this long-awaited milestone of homeownership, Smith continues to plan for what is next. Currently a supervisor at a retail pharmacy, Smith is saving for a new vehicle and making plans to advance. With the goals she has envisioned for herself and her family, Smith makes it clear that purchasing her home was just the first, big step.

“I’ve been set up for success!” Smith said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without MDHA. I am grateful.”