Woman who helps homeless find housing becomes homeowner

Posted: October 14, 2013

FOR EIGHT YEARS, Anita Howard has worked at a job she loves, helping homeless people move from shelters into apartments they can call their own.

"I love this agency," Howard said of her work with Methodist Services in Wynnefield. "It does so much for so many people. We serve 2,600 women, children and families a year." The agency also provides adoption and foster-care services.

But when it came time for Howard to go from renting a house to owning her own home, Howard realized she needed help and found the counseling services at the West Oak Lane Community Development Corp., which is part of the larger Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp.

At first, she attended a group seminar that went over the basics of home buying.

Later, she signed up with a counselor who helped her in one-on-one meetings.

She realized she had to get her credit score improved and put some savings in the bank.

Her counselor, Margaret Shepherd, told her to contact old creditors to get erroneous information cleared from her credit report.

Then she started, as Howard put it, "some really good habits."

"I started bringing my lunch every day, and I realized I didn't need to get my nails done every two weeks.

"I tell people I haven't bought anything new to wear in over two years, no new clothes, no new shoes. You have to make sacrifices."

Howard, 54, said her counselor had stressed the need to have money in the bank, even after prequalifying for a mortgage.

Tom Stafford, executive director of the West Oak Lane CDC, said many people learn about the counseling program through word of mouth. The agency, at 2502 Cheltenham Ave., near Upsal, is listed on the city's website as a housing resource.

"People want to buy housing," Stafford said. "But the higher demand now is for foreclosure prevention - and to save their homes. That's about 60 percent of our clients."

It took Howard about a year to find the house she wanted.

When Howard found her house, a twin that was one of two rebuilt on a lot where the old housing had been torn down, she said she knew it was the one for her.

It had all her "must-haves."

"It had to have a yard. I wanted to have a wraparound porch. I wanted to enjoy my neighborhood and enjoy the sky.

"It has shrubberies and they even planted a tree in the front yard."

She closed on the house May 30.

Howard, who is divorced, grew up in North Philadelphia and has two daughters. Her older daughter, D'Nita, 25, has a degree in computer engineering and Jasmine, 22, is a veterinary assistant who is planning to go back to school to get a degree as a veterinary technician.

After a divorce, and after living in a rented home for 10 years, Howard planned to buy the house, but was told she would have to wait two more years for the house to be renovated. But Howard said she didn't want to wait.

She had already gone back to college at age 50 to finish her degree in business management. She said it was important for her to show her daughters that owning a home was something to strive for and to leave as a legacy for them.

"Every time I sit down in this house, I just feel at home," Howard said. "It feels so good to be home. The house that I used to rent, it was where I lived, but this is my home."

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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