Who doesn’t love breaking open a fortune cookie to find the hidden message inside? The vague prophesies are more fun than fact but intriguing, nonetheless. In Farmville, Va., Piedmont Habitat for Humanity is turning that concept on its head by putting two sturdily constructed halves together to change the futures of four new homeowners with help from USDA Rural Development (RD).
The new modular houses are an out-of-the-box approach that is helping the nonprofit leverage close to $1 million in grant funding to get more people into safe, affordable homes within a tight timeline. Conventional construction takes four to six months to complete, and Piedmont had two years to build 11 of them when they started their newest project.
“We quickly realized that we could not, in theory, build four houses in Farmville, three in Crewe and four in Keysville in the time allotted,” says Director of Family Services Dan Dwyer. “Cardinal Homes in Charlotte County delivered the first four modular units in just one week. We put in the foundations, set the two parts in place with a crane and seamed them together.”
RD Loan Specialist Masengo Kapanga worked with Dwyer to secure Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans, also known as 502 Direct Loans, totaling $565,840 that will make Amy Randolph, Inette Brown, Diana Randall and Zach Kowalski instant neighbors. She says the agency has previously funded modular houses but not four on adjacent lots that are all closing on the same day.
RD doesn’t require down payments for 502 Direct Loans, which can be used to purchase or repair an existing home or construct a new one. The interest rates are much lower than the market rate of conventional lenders, and fixed with longer terms that make them more affordable. Borrowers may qualify for income-based payment assistance to subsidize their rates, which may be as low as one percent in some cases for a reduced monthly payment.
As one of seven certified loan packagers in the state, Piedmont is in a unique position to make big things happen through their special relationship with RD. This affiliation can help improve the purchase experience for first-time borrowers by offering one-stop shopping for housing and credit counseling, financing, realtor selection and closing.
“We’re in the business of trying to help make a difference in people’s lives through housing,” says Dwyer who has been working in this capacity for over two years now. “Packagers can reduce the stress on families by connecting the dots to make sure applications are complete and facilitate the process of getting USDA approval. Many of our partner families wouldn’t apply if I handed them the paperwork and said, ‘good luck.’”
The regional housing provider covers the six counties of Prince Edward, Buckingham, Cumberland, Charlotte, Nelson and Nottoway, and has built or repaired 63 houses to date. If all goes according to plan, Dwyer says 14 of the 15 new builds planned for this cycle should be financed through RD.
Kapanga says Piedmont typically signs the contract and identifies financing before reaching out to USDA. The nonprofit then sells the house to the client with RD as the primary funding source. The program is also structured to allow individuals who might not qualify through traditional lenders to get financing to supplement the costs of building with Habitat for Humanity. In many cases, clients don’t need to pay a penny out of pocket beyond the inspection.
All four purchasers should close on their new homes by the end of June. While luck wasn’t really a factor here, all four are grateful for the opportunity and will have ample time to swap stories with their new neighbors.
“I have waited 67 years for my dream to come true,” says Randall. "The Habitat family has been a great blessing. Thanks to USDA for investing in me."
Photo Caption: Diana Randall, Amy Randolph, Inette Brown and Zach Kowalski hold shovels in this group photo of the groundbreaking for their new homes (courtesy photo).