For Shawn Watwood, the Westside has always been home. He moved to Atlanta in 2017 to take a job with Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre, and from there began to learn about his new community by attending NPU meetings and early Transform the Westside Summit’s hosted by Westside Future Fund (WFF).
Years later, and in his new role as senior manager of corporate partnerships and sales for AMB Sports + Entertainment, Watwood continued living on the Westside and made key connections – like meeting Tameka Askew, WFF’s Home on the Westside Manager.
“I’ve known Tameka, forever, and she kept telling me that I should look into WFF’s affordable housing program Home on the Westside (HOTW),” said Watwood. “I had reservations because like most people I thought homeownership was too expensive and that the process could be overwhelming. It wasn’t until my last apartment complex notified me of a rent increase that I finally thought to myself it might be time to start the process.”
For Watwood, it felt like divine timing. The next summit he attended was focused on the work of Westside Future Fund, and Askew gave a presentation on WFF’s HOTW program. During the presentation, Askew showed a photo of a yellow house and Watwood could suddenly envision himself living there.
“After the summit I talked to the WFF team, and they encouraged me to fill out the paperwork. While going through the process for HOTW, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. It was always so seamless and easy,” said Watwood. “Working with the team at WFF is literally like having your hand held every step of the way. I closed on my house in less than 30 days.”
Given his live and work connections to the community, which are part of the community retention guidelines for HOTW, Watwood qualified for $40,000 in down payment assistance from WFF and another $10,000 in assistance from Invest Atlanta.
Going through Home on the Westside wasn’t just about settling more permanent roots down on the Westside, it was also about making a home. During the pandemic he met his partner Camille Monae while attending a performance she was starring in at the West End Performing Arts Center. The two bonded over their shared love for performing arts and attending a small university in Texas. When the opportunity to participate in HOTW came up, it was also a chance for Watwood and Monae to create a space together.
“Having this as our place to go home to is new to both of us. Both of us have moved so many times in our lives,” said Monae. “For the longest time my grandmother’s house in San Antonio, TX was home, and now I get to switch that mindset that now this is my home, and we get to create it together.”
The couple has also started to expand their sense of home beyond their four walls, and into the community, by connecting with their neighbors. They are already in a WhatsApp group with their neighborhood where they arrange everything from picking up each other’s packages and sharing herbs to arranging impromptu clean ups at their nearby community park – Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park.
“The Westside is reminiscent of a neighborhood I grew up in during my early childhood,” said Monae. “A place that has progressed over the last decade, but there have been some downsides to that gentrification – my mother and grandmother still live in the neighborhood and my mom’s property taxes have almost tripled. I’ve seen what it’s like when these neighborhood efforts are done wrong and in a harmful way, and it’s nice to see Westside Future Fund’s intentional approach. I wish that was the case everywhere.”
Watwood and Monae officially moved into their home in March of this year. As the couple unpacks boxes, they are also thinking about new paint colors for their wall and making design plans for their backyard – taking the steps to turn their new space into a home.