- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) - “It’s my little mansion on the hill,” says Michelle Taylor proudly.

On a pastoral, rural family acre north of Hernando near Nesbit, her home is a modest, three-bedroom, one-bath structure of about 1,600 square feet. But it looms large for the 46-year-old divorced mom as an American Dream fulfilled, and for the Hernando-DeSoto Habitat for Humanity branch as a pledge redeemed.

Taylor moved into the house in 1994. It was the first Habitat for Humanity home in DeSoto County. She worked hard and moved up at her Walmart job, raised four children and kept her eyes on her goal.

In 2014, after 500 hours of “sweat equity” to erect the residence and 20 years of ups and downs - including a house fire in 2002 and the onset of the Great Recession five years later - she did something that is considered by many, including Habitat officials, a great accomplishment: She paid off her mortgage.

Some 240 payments of about $285, done. The home is hers, free and clear. It happens less and less, for any range of homeowners.

In 1970, the percentage of Americans who owned their home outright was almost 40 percent; now it’s only about 29 percent, according to the real estate site Zillow.

Sue Henderson, Habitat for Humanity International’s vice president of operations for U.S. and Canada, said: “We’d like to extend our congratulations to Michelle. We’re thrilled that another Habitat family is mortgage-free. We hope Michelle and her family are celebrating this monumental achievement.”

Taylor, now a manager at the Walmart in Hernando, said: “I posted a picture of the last check on Facebook. I know that sounds crazy.”

Not to Habitat volunteer Donnie Chambliss and co-chairman Lee Ashcraft.

“It’s a great moment - our first home and first homeowner to pay off the mortgage,” says Ashcraft.

“It’s inspiring,” says Chambliss, a Southaven real estate agent, “to not only deliver a house but to see the homeowner fulfill their commitment.” Habitat homes, he says, “aren’t given to people. It’s not a handout. There’s an obligation of homeowners to hold up their end of the deal, and this lady did that.”

There now are 22 to 23 Habitat homes in DeSoto, he says.

Turned down by at least two lenders two decades ago, Taylor turned to Habitat, new to DeSoto, “after my mom read a story about it in the paper.” Taylor wanted the security of a home of their own for herself and son James, then 7, and daughter Jasmine, then 5. Her family since has grown with another son and daughter, Diontae, 15, and Stacee, 17.

“When the opportunity came for me to get a Habitat home, it was ‘Lord, thank you.’ Habitat was a godsend,” says Taylor, now a grandmother of two. At 25, she was a homeowner “and my friends were amazed. But it was a big responsibility for me.”

She says her dad, Therman Richardson, who lives two doors east, kept her on course: “Every month he’d say, ‘Have you got the house note? Have you got the house note?’”

Founded 38 years ago by Millard and Linda Fuller in Americus, Georgia, nonprofit Habitat for Humanity International is a Christian ministry aimed at eliminating homelessness and subpar housing, and making affordable, adequate homes available to people despite adversity. Since 1976, Habitat has built some 70,000 houses for some 350,000 people globally.

Volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials build houses, which are sold to qualified “partner” families at no profit and financed with no-interest loans. Mortgage payments are plowed into a revolving Fund for Humanity that’s tapped to build more houses, with homeowners called on to put in 500 hours of work in the construction.

“There was hammering and drilling, we did it all in three months” during winter, says Taylor, aided by volunteers, friends, family “and bonfires. But those 500 hours seemed like only five, I got so much help.”

DeSoto Habitat builds about a home a year, but wants to increase that number,” says Chambliss. “Now, our Home Run for Habitat 5K/10K raises about $60,000 a year, about the cost of a Habitat home, and we hope to double our rate of building with the proceeds.”

Ashcraft says he hopes to see a mortgage payoff each year, too.

That was Taylor’s dream come true, and it can happen for others despite such straits as she endured, she says.

“Just go for it; don’t give up. Because in the end, it’s all going to be worth it.”

___

Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide