The Interfaith Housing Development Corp. of Bucks County helped one mother of two to own a home when little help was available.
For Bristol's Maria Figueroa, simply being in the backyard of a home she finally owns fills her with pride.
"I just sit back there and unwind, relax," said Figueroa. "For me, I worked very hard to get something that's mine. This was something that I did on my own."
On her own, for sure, but she got some help from Interfaith Housing Development Corp. of Bucks County and its lease-purchase program for low-income and moderate-income families who want to own homes.
In 2001, Figueroa was one of the first Interfaith clients to use the program. It has since become a staple at the nonprofit Bristol-based housing agency that traditionally provided homes for rent or sale to moderate-income individuals and families who needed assistance.
And Figueroa has become a homeowner.
"Within the last few years, we've moved away from renting," said Liz Lampen, Interfaith's property developer.
The downturn in the housing market has made it cheaper for Interfaith to purchase and refurbish homes and Lampen said the Interfaith Lease-Purchase Program has become a popular avenue for clients, like Figueroa, who don't want to rent but aren't yet ready to buy.
They lease a property from Interfaith, in most cases, for up to three years. Eventually, after completing mandatory debt elimination programs and homebuyer counseling and education classes, they get the option to buy.
Figueroa brought her two children and a quite a bit of debt to Interfaith Housing in 2000 after she left an abusive relationship in New Jersey. Looking to start over, she enrolled in what, at the time, was a pilot Interfaith Lease-Purchase Program.
"It was important for me to have a home that my kids and I could have on our own and that it'd be safe," she said.
She made a down payment of about $1,000, leased a home in Bristol and began paying down her debt. She took part in the homebuyer classes, but the three-year program took six years after Figueroa was injured at work and had to go on permanent disability.
"I had a lot of setbacks and they were very understanding," said Figueroa, who eventually settled the debt and was able to buy the house. "If not for Interfaith, I don't know where I'd be. I have two kids. Their lives were disrupted and I didn't want to disrupt them more. It was important not to go into an apartment."
Owning the home, a three-bedroom twin on Mansion Street, has been a dream come true, she said.
"It was a wonderful lifeline for me," Figueroa said of Interfaith. "Their hand was out when no one else's was there."
Using funding from donations and county community development allocations, Interfaith tries to develop about 20 properties a year, mostly in Bristol and Bristol Township. The nonprofit buys them, helps refurbish them and then makes them available for rent, purchase or lease-to-purchase arrangements.
Clients whose income is 80 percent of a designated median family income or lower are eligible to take part. The income limits are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For a family of four, it is $62,250. For a family of two, it is $49,800.
Lampen said about 20 clients have completed lease-purchase arrangements. Another five are working their way through the program.
"It was so important to me to have something I could leave behind for my kids," said Figueroa, who is now a board member at Interfaith. "I feel like I'm giving back what was given to me. + It took longer than I thought, but they didn't give up on me."
John Anastasi can be reached at 215-949-4170 or at janastasi@phillyBurbs.com .
Goto http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/news_details/article/175/2010/march/21/a-dream-come-true-1.html for original March 21st Bucks County Courier Times article.