July 19, 2005.
Sun Sentinel, Florida.
Affording a home isn't always possible for people with disabilities, who typically have lower-paying jobs and steeper monthly medical bills.
But a revamped Fannie Mae program, known as Community HomeChoice, now offers flexible mortgage, credit and income guidelines for low- and moderate-income disabled people. It requires only $500 down for a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, and participants can count the public benefits they receive as income to qualify for a mortgage. It also allows relatives who have a disabled family member living with them to get a loan.
Sunrise resident Michael Lewis, who is developmentally disabled and works two jobs, is using the program to buy his first home, a one-bedroom condo in the Welleby development for $118,000.
He hopes to qualify for up to $30,000 in housing grants that would bring his monthly payment closer to $700. He is supposed to close this month.
"I like the idea of owning my own place,'' Lewis, 48, said. "I've been through the ups and the downs, and it's about time to go up.''
His older sister, Karen Bowlby, a Deerfield Beach resident, said Lewis frequently moves from one rental apartment to another. Sometimes it's a roommate he doesn't get along with. Other times the rent goes up so much he can't afford to stay.
"I'm lucky if he's at a place for a year before he has to move again,'' she said.
The new program became available nationwide last year. Loans typically go for about 4.9 percent to borrowers with good credit. Borrowers who put down less than 20 percent still must pay mortgage insurance.
Because Lewis, who works as a janitor and a busboy, didn't have a credit record, his mortgage rate is 6.5 percent. However, he will be eligible for a lower rate once he completes a class on financial management for first-time buyers.
Lewis learned about the program from Yeshia Cullen, a Hollywood mortgage broker who is legally blind. Lewis met Cullen at the Lucanus Developmental Center in Hollywood where Cullen discussed the program with about two dozen people.
"My goal is to help more disabled people become homeowners,'' said Cullen, who operates My Mortgage Channel.
Nationally, one in five people age 5 or older have some type of long-term disability, according to the 2000 census. In South Florida, one in three say they have a disability.
At the Palm Beach Habilitation Center in Lake Worth, Chief Executive Officer Tina Philips said she knows of five disabled clients who bought homes or condos the past three years, but they did not use the Fannie Mae program.
"I've been in this business 42 years, and you could never have convinced me that I'd be having this conversation with you,'' Philips said. "But we are encouraging people with independent living options, and this program could be a great thing, especially because the price of real estate is accelerating so much.''
Oakland Park resident Catherine LaPoint wants a home for her two daughters, Ashley, 13, who has juvenile diabetes, and Jacqueline, 11, who has cerebral palsy, is visually impaired and uses a wheelchair. The family has rented a two-bedroom apartment for five years, but it is being converted to a condo.
LaPoint, 40, who has diabetes and lives off about $1,330 a month in Social Security benefits, pays $750 a month in rent. "We are desperate to get into a house and not have to move again,'' she said.
Robin Benedick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7914.
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