For nearly 30 years, Kathy Payton has been serving the citizens of Houston, Texas, by making the sometimes enormous challenge of homeownership an attainable goal for people who probably thought otherwise. And in a city like Houston that can be daunting for many due to its sheer size, Payton has been able to carve out a path that has led to a revitalization in a vital community.
To understand how Payton has been able to do so much for so many, it goes back to a simple attitude that she uses to remember why she does what she does. “I enjoy the work, and I look at what I do with a servant’s attitude,” she said. “I love making a difference in people’s lives.”
February 1, 2022, marked 28 years for Payton who has been an integral part of Fifth Ward CRC, spending 10 years as a program manager and deputy director and the last 18 as the company’s chief executive. Payton is Texas through-and-through, earning a degree from the University of Texas in Austin, non-Profit Management and Leadership from Rice and Executive Certification from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government all while being a wife, mom and grandmother.
For Payton, working at Fifth Ward CRC means coming to work every day with a sense of purpose that does not stray far from the company’s mission. “My personal and professional mission and vision is to create opportunity for others,” Payton said. “It’s really about helping families fulfill their dreams every day and overcome any obstacles that might stand in their way.”
And when it comes to dealing with homeownership, there is certainly no shortage of hoops to jump through to ensure that the process is as smooth as it can be. At Fifth Ward CRC, Payton’s team works with each individual directly from start to finish to ensure someone is with them every step of the way. That begins with one-on-one pre-purchase counseling and homebuyer education classes that see as many as 600 people learn the in’s-and-outs of the process.
From there, individuals and families get help with budgeting and saving to build equity, walking through the mortgage process and getting matched up with a realtor. It doesn’t stop there, Fifth Ward CRC also builds homes and works with clients to identify down-payment assistance options they might qualify for to ensure they have all the resources at their disposal to achieve the dream of homeownership. The relief is not lost on the group, as they throw a closing party for the family to celebrate.
For Payton, the path to homeownership doesn’t end with getting the keys to the house but building a lasting piece of equity for homeowners to pass down to their children. “The goal simply isn’t just getting the house, but keeping it,” Payton said. “Our homebuyer classes are a minimum of eight hours with follow-up counseling and enrichment spread out over a handful of dates. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep families in their houses.”
For much of Payton’s tenure with Fifth Ward CRC, Hancock Whitney has been a willing partner in assisting the individuals that come through the organization’s doors. For over a decade, Hancock Whitney has made community lending officers available for educating first-time homebuyers in a group and one-on-one settings, while also offering affordable lending opportunities.
“Hancock Whitney has been committed and is responsive to the needs of the community,” Payton said. “They understand community development, especially for people of color.”
Through the vision of Payton and the work of Fifth Ward CRC, Houston has a vibrant neighborhood that welcomes all backgrounds to the community while also being able to withstand the challenges of hurricanes and the pandemic. The organization has assisted through disasters like Hurricane Harvey with emergency assistance while setting up vaccination clinics to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 surges.
Through it all, Payton and her team have bigger goals for the future with the hopes of spurring more economic development in the area. It includes repurposing a historic hospital into mixed income housing, as well as a cultural arts programming for youth to help keep kids off the street and out of trouble.
Payton has done a lot in these 28 years; however, creating an equitable and thriving area of Houston is still ongoing. But for a person with a servant’s attitude, Payton and Fifth Ward CRC will be there, ready to turn a dream into reality for many more families for years to come.