Herbert Billinger devoted most of his career to public service through the U.S. military. Drafted in 1952, he served the Army in Germany, then joined the Reserve, followed by the National Guard. Today, even though he officially retired in 1995, Billinger serves the American Legion as a chaplain. And yet, he and his wife Jacqueline were never able to afford their own home. That is, until the couple discovered Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services
(NPHS) of Riverside, CA, and moved into their first home just in time for the holidays.
“We usually go away for Thanksgiving,” says Jacqueline. “But we are so happy to be in our own house for the first time in our 36-year marriage that we will probably celebrate here – and invite everyone over!”
According to Herbert, the couple’s main obstacle to homeownership was a lack of savings and poor credit. “It was always one thing or another,” he recalls. “We’d mostly rent houses, and the owner would ask us if we were interested in buying, but we never had enough of a nest egg to be able to make it happen.”
Then their daughter-in-law received a flyer from NPHS and urged the couple to contact the organization to see what help might be available. After some delay, they did – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Adam Sands, marketing and public relations director for NPHS, says the organization had just received its first foreclosed house donated by the Bank of America through the National Community Stabilization Trust, with the requirement that it go to a military veteran with a low to moderate income. Add to that the fact that the house is located in a community for senior citizens, and you have a “home for the holidays” that was tailor-made for Herbert and Jacqueline.
Of course, there were some required steps before the couple qualified for the $13,000 down-payment grant that made the purchase possible. The couple visited an NPHS homeownership counselor, who coached them on bringing their credit score up – a process that took several months. For instance, they made small purchases using a secure credit card, instead of paying in cash, and paid off old medical bills and other debts.
“We’d made some poor judgments before,” admitted Herbert, recalling the time when they paid $2,200 to what turned out to be a scam artist to help them clean up their credit. “But the NPHS counselor worked closely with us every step of the way.”
Meanwhile, NPHS rehabbed the house, including a partnership with nonprofit Great Alternatives to install solar panels free of charge, thus lowering their monthly electric costs by $80.
“I can’t quite believe that we will never have to move anymore!” says Jacqueline. “We don’t have to worry about the rent going up or landlords who won’t fix up the property. We are finally settled. I’m home.”