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It takes more than a building to make a home


It was mid-February, and cold, when Brandy Tolber came to the sinking realization that she needed to get out of the “toxic” relationship with her boyfriend of four years, and fast. Although he had served as a father figure for her daughter since the girl was 7, he had become manipulative and was threatening to kick them out.

“I started just driving around, looking for any and every sign for a place of our own that we could afford,” remembers Tolber. “My main requirement was that it be close to Destiny’s school. I didn’t want to disrupt her life even more.”
Brandy (left) and Destiny Tolber
That’s when Tolber saw the sign for the office of Community Properties of Ohio (CPO), one of the property management companies used by NeighborWorks member Homeport in Columbus, OH. She walked in and saw photographs of the “cute little houses” she had noticed in her drives around town – the kind she had begun to dream of living in. Fortunately, although she had been unemployed after a layoff for nearly two years, Tolber had just been hired on a temp basis at a local high school; so, she had a source of income to report.

It took a couple of weeks to provide all of the information needed to be approved; in the meantime, the two moved in with Tolber’s brother and she visited the CPO website every day, checking out the available homes. She found one – and learned that Destiny’s elementary school was less than a mile away. It seemed too good to be true – but she got her dream. Tolber and Destiny moved in March 25.

Ilsa Beyl, a senior project manager at Homeport, explains that Brandy was able to benefit from a “lease-option” program covering 451 of the organization’s 2,192 rental homes: According to government regulations, the single-family houses are rented for 15 years; at the end of that term, current residents are eligible to purchase their homes. When a resident purchases one of the homes, the price is set so that the buyer pays no more than the current rent, and Homeport replaces the roof, furnace and water heater.

“We see affordable rental properties as an essential element of the fabric of a healthy community,” says Beyl. “Lease-option homes provide stable housing; our average resident remains in their home for more than seven years – far longer than the average renter.”

The house was Tolber’s dream, but she was missing something: furniture.
Brandy Tolber on her new sofa
“When we first moved in, my daughter and I slept together on her twin-sized bed. To say we were crowded is an understatement; Destiny is 10 years old and five foot four inches!” laughs Tolber. “And in the living room, I just put a blanket on the floor and told her we were having a picnic for dinner.” 

That’s when Deqa Mahammed, service coordinator for Homeport, came to her rescue.

“When we get new residents, we send out a ‘welcome pamphlet’ with a brief introduction to Homeport and a list of the services we provide,” recalls Mahammed. “When Brandy called to get more information, I completed an assessment to determine her needs.  She needed assistance navigating our county resources, so I went to her home to complete some forms. That was when I noticed she was in need of furniture.”

Fortunately, Homeport has a partnership with The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio. In return for a small delivery fee, each qualifying recipient receives a truck full of furniture. Mahammed completed an assessment of Tolber’s needs, and soon she had bed frames, tables, coffee tables, etc. 

“A local TV station covered our story, and Destiny told them that ‘mommy was depressed,’ before I found this house and then got the furniture. But now, we have our own, secure home together, and that was my No. 1 priority,” says Tolber.

Destiny will turn 11 on Dec. 20. Where will she celebrate it? At home. 

Postscript: Although Tolber’s temporary job at the high school had become permanent, she was laid off around Thanksgiving. That means she will be back “pounding the pavement” looking for work, and money is scarce for the holidays. But at least, she says, she and Destiny have their own “home base.”

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