CourierPostOnline

Housing Program Helps Women

Program prepares them for buying homes

CourierPostOnline — Friday, June 18, 2004

By JEANNE RIDGWAY
Courier-Post Staff

CAMDEN — Single parent Milagros Santos has a dream for her three young children – she wants them to grow up in a house of their own, a privilege Santos never enjoyed.

On Saturday, Santos took the first step toward achieving her goal.

The 36-year-old Camden resident attended "A Home of Her Own: A Women's Housing Initiative," a free, HUD-certified program designed to inform and inspire low- and moderate-income women to purchase their own homes.

The event was presented by New Jersey Citizen Action, an independent consumer advocacy group. More than 170 – many of them minority women – attended the forum at the Catholic Charities lecture hall here.

Santos hopes to join the rolls of 10,000 state residents who became homeowners after completing the loan counseling program.

In Camden County, the program is open to households with incomes of up to $55,000 a year.

Participants receive coaching, loan counseling, a credit assessment and access to a network of Realtors, attorneys and participating lenders. Reduced mortgage interest rates and reduced mortgage application fees make the deal even sweeter.

"This is definitely a positive thing," said Santos, a longtime renter who lives in cramped quarters with her children and mother.

Laurel Springs resident Chris Neville, 42, came to Saturday's event on behalf of his friend, Joyce Baker of Clementon, who was working that day. Neville said Baker, the mother of two, will be encouraged to hear that there is no geographical restriction on where participants may purchase their home – as long as it is in New Jersey.

"It was very informative," said Neville at the conclusion of the two-hour presentation. He completed an application for Baker to begin her HUD-certified mortgage counseling.

The length of time it takes clients to finish counseling and purchase a home varies from person to person. New Jersey Citizen Action executive director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye told participants that some of them could begin looking for their home in a matter of weeks.

"Some of you are mortgage-ready now, you just don't know it," said Salowe-Kaye.

But many others must work longer to correct credit histories and save for a down payment. To receive the program's special benefits such as lower mortgage rates, participants need to accumulate funds equal to 5 percent of the sale price, 2 percent of which may be received in the form of a gift.

Jennifer Murphy, the program's loan counseling director, encouraged patience. "As long as you're in it with us, we're in it for you," she said.

Two successful graduates of the counseling program addressed participants on Saturday.

Monmouth County resident Dawn Disette, who bought a condominium in April for $60,000, drew gasps of approval when she told the crowd about her interest rate: 3.5 percent through a loan with Sovereign Bank. Sovereign is one of four banks offering reduced rate mortgages as partners in the program along with New Jersey Citizen Action. The other lenders are Fleet, PNC, and Wachovia.

Another new homeowner, Daryl Gwaltney, went from paying a landlord to becoming a landlord. Gwaltney received a loan through Fleet to purchase a brand-new, three-unit residential building in Newark. The road to homeownership was bumpy, but worth it, Gwaltney said.

"Stay with it, don't give up, and don't let anyone discourage you. With God, you can do it," she said.

Founded in 1982, New Jersey Citizen Action is the state's largest independent citizen watchdog coalition, working with more than 100 affiliated organizations. Saturday's event marked the 28th in a series of "A Home of Her Own" events held throughout the state since 1996. Saturday's program drew the best turnout ever for the Camden area.

The initiative puts particular focus on women homeownership, but does not exclude men, according to Murphy.

"Women have been traditionally underserved by the mortgage industry, even though many of them are heads of households," she explained.

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