Counseling helps single mom become homeowner

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Five years ago, a young mother was struggling through a separation. Her work and family life suddenly revolved around legal custody disputes and support claims.

Like many others have before when such difficult court actions are finally resolved, Linda Peak found that bankruptcy was her only option to reach financial stability and keep her creditors at bay. She felt at that time, her finances were ruined beyond repair and owning a home would always be a dream.

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PROUD HOMEOWNER— Earl, Linda and Devin Peak in their newly-constructed home on Susquehanna Street in Pittsburgh.

“After everything was done, I was just going through the motions and living day-to-day,” said Linda, the mother of two young sons, Earl, age 13 and Devin, 16. “I’d go to work and come home. I didn’t plan much of anything for the future because I thought my credit would be ruined forever.”

That mindset changed for Peak when she attended a homebuyers learning seminar offered by Mon Valley Initiative at its main offices in Homestead this past June. As a non-profit coalition of 10 Community Development Corporations that has been working together to revitalize the Mon Valley over the last two decades, MVI offers a number of services that enable individuals to help better themselves. These services include workforce and real estate development, as well as housing counseling.

“Since MVI began offering housing counseling in 2005, about 600 families have completed the program and bought homes,” said Mike Mauer, MVI’s NeighborWorks ® Certified Housing Counselor. “Like Linda, most of our successful counselees are those that become very determined to become homeowners when they learn that regardless of whatever your financial circumstances, you can eventually succeed in owning a home.”

Funded partially through grant monies offered through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, MVI’s housing counseling program primarily serves residents of Allegheny, Westmoreland and Washington counties. The non-profit offers homebuyer education group workshops at its Homestead office on Saturdays four times yearly, and individualized one-on-one housing counseling appointments scheduled Mondays through Fridays.

It was at such a workshop on June 25, 2009, that Linda learned her discharged bankruptcy would not adversely affect her ability to get a home mortgage forever.

“Usually after 24 months, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will no longer be a deciding factor in preventing an applicant from receiving a home mortgage,” said Mauer. “In fact, if a sufficient amount of time has gone by and an applicant has reestablished good credit, even a prior foreclosure would not be an issue.”

Following the workshop, Linda scheduled an appointment to meet with Mauer on July 1, 2009. After reviewing his client’s credit report and finances, Mauer and Peak both developed an action plan that, if followed, should get Linda into a home within six months.

“Mike explained everything that needed to be done in order for me to qualify for a mortgage,” said Linda. “He was also there to tell me what all to expect each step of the way. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

On Jan. 12, Linda Peak closed on a three bedroom, two-and-one-half bathroom house that features a fully equipped kitchen with a center island on Susquehanna Street in Pittsburgh.

“She called me right after she closed,” said Mauer. “She stayed excited and enthusiastic throughout the whole process.”

(On Saturday, March 20, MVI will host its next free pre-purchase housing workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 305 East 8th Ave., Homestead. All participants who successfully complete this U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development curriculum will receive a certificate which is required to obtain community development mortgage loans from local lenders.)

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