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April 12, 2014

Habitat evaluating three finalists for rehabbed home

MILLEDGEVILLE — Three families are extremely close to moving into a home on Leo Court.

The local Habitat for Humanity affiliate narrowed the list down from 26 applicants and will serve a second family in two years.

Habitat for Humanity Milledgeville-Baldwin County Executive Director Murali Thirumal said the selection committee approaches the final choice.

Vital home visits of the final three applicants will determine who earns a three-bedroom and two-bathroom residence.

It’s safe to say this year’s selections are the most scrutinized ever.

Century Bank helps the local affiliate evaluate credit history. Residency requirements, adjusted median income for Baldwin County, ability to pay and need are factors.

“Home visits are critical. The one thing that will set them apart from each other with everything else equal is their need for housing,” the director said.

Potential homeowners can’t make too much that they qualify for a traditional loan but must have a steady enough job to pay back the Habitat loan.

Each partner family purchases their home with an interest-free 20-year mortgage and performs at least 300 hours of sweat equity labor on their homes and other homes being constructed for consideration.

Habitat receives applications all year.

“We will evaluate them as they come in,” Thirumal said. “Those interested can put their name in the hat so to speak. They may not fit this house but may fit the next house.”

Habitat wants to build neighborhoods not just place people in homes. Harrisburg’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) is off and running.

A local man, Buck Henderson, keeps a neighborhood watch and directs Habitat to the homes with rehab needs.

Under the NRI, volunteers paint and handle minimal outdoor repairs.

First United Methodist Church’s (FUMC) 17th annual River of Life will partner with Habitat.

“We want to provide all the paint for this year’s program,” Thirumal said.

Courtesy of national partner Valspar, the organization ordered 360 gallons. Habitat only pays for shipping cost.

Long-term strategic planning has Milledgeville’s Habitat serving two families per year with housing.

“That’s a huge challenge for a community of this size,” Thirumal said. “We are talking about selling them an affordable house whether it’s rehab or new.”

Habitat closed on its first home in five years last September. The Halim family moved in next door to the current home mentioned.

Mortgage law changes do affect Habitat operations.

Luckily, recent Georgia legislation, House Bill 750, exempts the non-profit from having to comply with all of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s regulations for originating and servicing loans in the mortgage market.

Charity organizations don’t have the bother getting a state license to offer low-interest homeowner mortgages. Thirumal said that Habitat could keep the process in house.

“It gives us some breathing ground to continue doing what we have always done working hand-in-hand with the consumer, so we won’t let them down,” he said.

This bill changed state law to match federal exemption law.

Since the Habitat applicants’ ability to pay is screened so carefully, licensing safeguards aren’t necessary. Nationally, the organization’s foreclosure rate is less than 2 percent.

“We will screen our three final applicants very closely to see if they will be able to sustain long-term payments,” Thirumal said.

The average homeowner payment is $250 per month.

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