At a difficult time, Emma Aubrey found HRB. And from the safety and stability of HRB housing, she built a successful law career, raised her family, and qualified to buy a home of her own.
One of the first things Emma Aubrey did when she moved into her new home in HRB’s Ferncliff Village was to set up a desk in her bedroom. She had just graduated from Seattle University School of Law and the bar exam loomed large before her. In time, dishes would find their way into kitchen cabinets, children’s bedrooms would assert their personality with pictures on the wall and toys on the floor. But for the next three months, for 12-14 hours a day, this formidable law exam would dominate Emma’s days and nights—that is, when she wasn’t tending to her newborn daughter. “I’d study and I’d feed her and I’d put her down.” Over and over again. And in this way, with the appointment of furniture and gathering of memories, a house became a home.
“I just love going home,” she says. “I don’t want to be anywhere but home.”
Emma passed the bar. And today, as she recalls the many moves, trials, and triumphs of the last 12 years, she sits in an office at the law firm where she works in Port Orchard, with the brass lamp and potted fern one associates with the profession and with that baby girl, now 4 years old, passing in and out of the room, wearing a tutu, a string of plastic pearls, and a big blue bow atop of head of dark curls. Emma has just sold her home and will be moving to a market-rate house closer to work and large enough to comfortably accommodate her family of six.
Emma grew up in Wyoming, the daughter of a schoolteacher and a lawyer. Her childhood was grounded in the stability of home, moving predictably between their ranch in Casper where she attended school and a second home in Kelly, where they passed the summers with a view of the Tetons.
She headed west during college with her boyfriend who got a job in Port Orchard. But the relationship turned violent, and Emma fled with her 6-month-old son to Bainbridge, to the only other person she knew in the entire state—the friend of a friend’s sister. She slept on her couch for two months, before moving into an HRB apartment. There was no going back to her family in Wyoming—she could not leave the state with her son without violating her custody order.
From the safety of her first HRB home, Emma began to build her life anew. She got a job as a server at Bainbridge Senior Living’s Wyatt House and moved on to clean apartments at Madison Avenue House, where she impressed the owner with her work ethic. He hired her as legal assistant in his law office and offered her a four-year clerkship, an alternative to law school. Emma opted for law school, a long-held ambition, while continuing to work and care for her son.
Emma may have arrived on Bainbridge for reasons of distress and escape, but she stayed for reasons so many do—the schools, particularly important since her son has special needs. “Nothing compares to Bainbridge, and I want my kids to have the best education possible.”
As circumstances changed, Emma moved among various homes, some HRB, some private, all the while sustaining a childhood dream of owning one of her own. For six years she remained on the Ferncliff waitlist, gradually boosting her income and lowering her debt and “anxiously waiting” for the only opportunity she would ever have to own a home on Bainbridge. Four years ago, she was finally able to buy a townhome in Ferncliff Village. HRB staff helped her close on the house and arranged a subsidy for the down payment with grant funding from Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. That low mortgage, a fraction of her childcare costs, enabled her to pursue a career in law which she has since put in the service of community. For nine years, she served on the board of directors for Kitsap Community Resources. For the last four, she has served on the board and provided pro bono legal services for Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center. Emma recently received the Humanitarian Award from the Kitsap County Bar Association, and last year alone, she logged over 130 hours in pro bono legal work.
“When I knew I was going to sell,” Emma said. “I wracked my brain for people I would love to live in my house.” She recalled with fondness a family she met when her son, now 12, entered preschool (their children attended Head Start together).
Ferncliff Village is part of the HRB community land trust. These homes must be sold to a qualified buyer at an affordable price. This ensures that the homes remain permanently affordable and remain a resource to low- and moderate-income members of the Bainbridge community. As luck would have it and unbeknownst to Emma, this very family had entered into the application process with HRB’s Homeownership Program Manager several months ago and were determined to be the most qualified buyer. And so, the townhome whose picture windows overlook the community gardens and where Emma once studied for the bar and tended her family, will be passed on to another family, former HRB renters like Emma, who may or may not put a desk in the upstairs bedroom.