WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – It took years, but 56-year-old Fern Shaw is finally a homeowner.

It’s something she said she never thought would happen, with the costs associated with homeownership and the credit scores required for a bank loan. When her children got older, she decided to start looking for something outside of the rental market.

“I have rented for a very, very long time. I have three children. My husband and I always wanted to own a house but was never able to afford it,” she said.

But due to a program through the Trumbull County Land Bank and a chance encounter at a local restaurant, her dreams have come true.

The Trumbull County Land Bank has an “Improved Property Program” that gives homeowners and investors an opportunity to purchase vacant properties at a low price and then own them after renovations.

Shaw didn’t know about the program until someone at a restaurant struck up a conversation with her husband about it.

“Looking into it, we thought that maybe this is possible that we can own our own home,” she said.

Shaw, who is originally from Braceville, now owns the home on Orlo Street in Warren. It wasn’t easy, but Shaw said it was affordable.

The couple acquired the house from the Land Bank in 2019 for around $5,000 and began renovations the next year. It was challenging to find workers during the COVID-19 pandemic so Shaw and her husband did a lot of the work themselves.

There are requirements to purchase a home through the Land Bank. Certain renovation requirements must be met by a certain time period, and only after those are met is the deed signed over to the new owner.

The Trumbull County Land Bank details the procedure on its website. Residential properties listed on the Land Bank’s website range from $10,000 to $89,900.

Shaw and her husband ended up spending about $40,000 to $50,000 on renovations, but Shaw said it was still more affordable than buying a home upfront, and the repairs weren’t made all at once.

Shaw said after making the required renovations, she and her husband are now taking their time to make little updates to make their new house feel more like home.

“Just knowing that you don’t have that mortgage, it just really helped a lot, so now it’s just like totally affordable and the little money that you do make, you can use it to fix up the house,” she said.

Now, she said she’s trying to get the word out about the program so that others who may believe home ownership is out of reach know that it’s an option.

“So anybody out there that has hopes of ever owning a house and don’t know how they’re going to do it, try Land Bank. You will be pleased and amazed and feel really, really blessed. I mean, just when you think you’re giving up. It just happened for me, and I’m just so happy. So happy. Words can’t express how happy I am,” she said.

“I can just sleep better at night. I can plan for the future. I can spend more time with my grandchildren and my children. I can just do more,” she added.

Such a program isn’t just available in Trumbull County. Keondre Johnson, 30, of Youngstown, also worked through the Mahoning County Land Bank to renovate a home on E. Lucius Avenue.

Applications for the Mahoning County Land Bank’s Deed-in-Escrow program are first open for those looking for single-family homes. After that, investors like Johnson are given the option to purchase.

Johnson’s family lives in the area, and he owns a few local rental properties. He said his goal is to offer some more affordable and quality rental options in the area, where he has seen rent climb as high as $1,300 to $1,400 a month. He plans to list the house for around $850 a month.

“My goal is to kind of be able to build up the area because I grew up in this area,” he said. “I don’t want to see people having to move outside of where they’re from to get nicer quality housing.”

Johnson said he purchased the house for $15,000 and estimates he put about $27,000 in renovations. Through the program, he said the Land Bank provides an inspector so that he knows the estimated renovation costs upfront.

“For this area, houses are going, the median is like $65,000, so they still give you enough room to you know, step into a situation where you’d have equity,” he said.

Organizations like the Columbiana County Land Bank and Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation also offer properties for sale, often below traditional prices in the market, after making their own renovations. You can find out more on the Land Bank’s website and YNDC’s website.

This is part of a series of stories that WKBN is looking into involving local housing issues in the Valley. Do you have a housing issue that you’d like us to look into? Send us your information here.