Owning a home is better than renting

A Habitat for Humanity house after landscaping.

Habitat for Humanity families are proof

By MARILYN KURZAWA

OBSERVER Lifestyles Correspondent

SILVER CREEK — Since 1989, Chautauqua Area Habitat for Humanity has been building or rehabilitating houses in our county for working families who have never before owned a house. For these families, there is little doubt that ownership is far preferable to renting.

When asked about the benefits or bonuses of owning your own home, Anne Milius of Silver Creek responded with words that were echoed by all four families polled for this article. Said Anne, “My husband and I are now paying a mortgage and putting equity into something that is ours instead of giving money to a landlord. We no longer need to ask permission if we want to paint a bedroom or change something in the home. We also never have to worry about being told that we have to move.”

Evelyn Atayde, a Dunkirk resident, added, “There is no longer the instability and worry that your landlord will raise your rent whenever a lease expires.”

Holly Burris, Silver Creek said, “I’m able to call it mine, and I know that my children have a beautiful place to call home.”

Colleen McKenna, Silver Creek, chimed in, “There is pride in ownership, as your home is yours.”

Each of these families began their quest for home ownership by completing an application that required them to provide details about employment and income to determine mortgage eligibility. At this time, all applications are sent to USDA Rural Development’s loan originator for this region, as that is the agency that qualifies families for very low-interest mortgages that will be held by a bank in Chautauqua County, or occasionally by CAHfH.

Each applicant also spoke with the CAHfH Family Committee Chairperson Donna Roof to discuss eligibility requirements, such as having children under the age of 18 living with them in the home; current living conditions that would not be considered safe or adequate for the family; the family’s willingness to invest 250 hours per adult of “sweat equity,” which includes working with the construction volunteers on Habitat houses; and their status as first-time home owners.

Once eligibility requirements have been met, a family is then visited by a few members of the Family Selection Committee who verify the condition of current living conditions and assess the family’s understanding of the sweat equity requirements, as well as their overall willingness to work with CAHfH.

When asked what it was like to work with all of the Habitat volunteers on the house building process, Anne truthfully reported, “It was a long process, but worth every single second. You get to work alongside so many different volunteers, from college students, to friends and family, to retirees and craftsmen that have done this kind of work all their lives! I learned so much, like how to cut shingles, how to insulate a home, how to use a drill, and how to measure properly.”

Holly added, “It was a wonderful experience. They were all like family — very caring, helpful and supportive.” All would agree that it’s not easy to complete a house or a rehabilitation process, but it’s so worth it in the end.

To a person, each current homeowner agrees that home ownership has changed family dynamics.

“The stability of our home has changed. My children, who remember living in a rental unit, know this house as a safe haven for them to come home to at any time. My children see me working to keep/own our home. They see how important this is for all of us,” reported Colleen. Holly added, “My family works as a team on the responsibilities at the house. My children are as proud of their new home as I am.”

Anne described how her family’s quest for home ownership contributed to her two sons’ successes in becoming homeowners too.

“They saw how much I value our home and take pride in the way it looks. They wanted that security and that pride for themselves, and I am proud to say both of them own their own homes and have become wonderful young men!”

A Jamestown family that recently paid off its mortgage also described their house as the place where all of the neighborhood children could gather for after-school play, birthday parties and just plain fun.

Jamestown resident Marcella Keith explained it this way.

“Perhaps the greatest gift I gave my children was the stability of our house as the safe-haven for the entire neighborhood. A place children could count on.”

In Chautauqua County there are about 130,000 people with around 66,580 housing units as of July 2016, according to www.census.gov/quickfacts and about 70 percent of these units are owner occupied. In 2010 (the most recent date available), there were 17,368 renters, or about 30 percent of the population according to www.city-data.com.

In 2016, median homeowner costs with a mortgage were $974 per month, and $437 without a mortgage. For Habitat families, the average mortgage cost is about $150 per month, and taxes increase their monthly payments to about $500 or slightly higher per month. The median gross rent in 2016 was $619 in Chautauqua County, a number which has reportedly risen in the last year or so.

When considering whether to rent or purchase a home, many people make assumptions about affordability and/or their own ability to secure a mortgage. Many times, these assumptions are erroneous since there are so many variables to consider.

Let’s take one example. A family of four (mother and three children) “assumed” that they would never qualify for a mortgage, even though they were already paying over $800 per month for rent, minus the cost of water and electricity, thus driving up their rental costs to over $1,000 per month. When a qualified loan originator examined all of the family’s income, debt and credit scores, it turned out that the family was qualified to assume a sizeable mortgage.

A second family of three (mother, father, and child) ran into some difficulties with the same loan originator, but by cleaning up some debt, they too became eligible for a mortgage within six months. Not every family has the same results, but the two cases are provided to demonstrate that sometimes a family’s perception can unnecessarily prevent them from applying for mortgage credit.

And then there are families who don’t think that home ownership is for them. Our Chautauqua Area Habitat for Humanity families may convince them otherwise.

“A home is a great investment for the years to come. A home is a purchase that increases in value over time. When making mortgage payments, you are paying for present living and at the same time investing in your future,” stated Evelyn.

Habitat families had the following advice to offer to other families thinking of pursuing this route:

¯ Even if you doubt that you will be approved for a mortgage, send in that application! As they say for the NYS Lottery, “Hey, you never know!”

¯ Keep your eye on the prize. Be patient; think/plan ahead; listen to all financial advice, even if you don’t take it all.

¯ Get your family and friends involved with you.

¯ Save all the money you can.

¯ Keep a safety net of money for unexpected expenses, and for increases in taxes, water bills, maintenance, and the daily upkeep of a home.

¯ Never forget that you are not alone. Your Habitat “family” will always be with you.

CAHfH is currently accepting applications for housing in each of the three areas in which it constructs or rehabilitates houses, namely South County (Jamestown and surrounding areas), Mid-County (Mayville and Westfield areas), and North County (Silver Creek/Town of Hanover, Fredonia, Dunkirk areas). The Family Selection Committee wishes to establish a “pipeline” of families qualified for Habitat home ownership so that when construction projects become available, it can quickly determine which families would be eligible for a particular house.

If you are interested in pursuing the goal of home ownership, contact CAHfH by calling 951-8111 or 934-9543. Details about this topic and others can be found at www.habitatchaut.org.

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