A story in the July 11 edition of the Extra incorrectly reported the number of houses built by the Loudoun County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. It has built six. (Published 7/15/04)
Tina Robinson's piece of the American dream -- three bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths -- is on a small lot in Saint Louis, a modest hamlet near Middleburg.
The new house cost its builders $95,000. The single mother got a considerable break on the price, though. For her, the house was $70,000.
The typical down payment on a house is 10 percent of the selling price, which in this case would come to $7,000. Robinson's move-in money, however, was a fraction of that: 1 percent plus an additional $300 or so in closing costs.
Robinson will have to carry the standard 30-year mortgage, but hers comes with a decidedly nonstandard feature: It's interest-free. Robinson's monthly payments will be pure principal.
Bottom line: Robinson expects that her new house on Pennycress Lane will run her less than $400 a month, including insurance and property taxes.
That's not bad for a house in Loudoun County, where a three-figure mortgage payment is about as rare a sight as a dairy farm these days.
But not just anyone can qualify for such generous terms of homeownership. Robinson did because she is just the sort of person Habitat for Humanity had in mind when it started building houses for low-income people in 1976.
First, Robinson met the nonprofit Christian ministry's extensive income and residency requirements. Homeowner families are chosen according to need, ability to repay the mortgage and willingness to work in partnership with Habitat. Then, her housing and work history passed muster with the local Habitat's five-person family-selection committee, and so did Robinson during two home visits by the organization's family-selection committee, said member Frank Buzzoni.
Robinson also had to convince Habitat that she was willing to work to make her house happen, putting a required 350 hours of "sweat equity" into the project. As a Habitat "partner," Robinson spent many weekends on Pennycress Lane, hammering and hauling alongside volunteers, doing whatever needed doing.
"Tina is a nice, hard-working person," said Stanley "Bud" Green, a retired fighter pilot on the board of the Loudoun County chapter of Habitat who put plenty of his own sweat into Robinson's house, too. "Giving people a step up," he said, "is not a handout."
Several years ago, needing a handout was a sad possibility for the 41-year-old Robinson.
"I was practically homeless," she said.
Robinson had been laid off from a well-paying job as an electronics technician and was able to find employment only as an assistant cook at a private girls school. That didn't bring in enough to keep a roof over her family's head.
"I had to move back home," Robinson said, home being her father's house in Middleburg, where she was born and raised.
Robinson's father lives at Windy Hill, where a private, nonprofit foundation of the same name started renovating dilapidated houses in the 1980s to rent at subsidized rates to local low-income residents. When the foundation completed a small apartment building at Windy Hill in 1995, Robinson became one of its first tenants.
"We help people get a history of paying rent," said Kim Hart, executive director of the Windy Hill Foundation. The foundation's tenants come in "at the bottom of the housing ladder, but as they gain stability and control, they can move up."
After four years in one of the foundation's apartments, Robinson "moved up" to one of its rental houses. She eventually landed a better job, too, at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Now, she is graduating to a home of her own, said Hart, who seems equal parts delighted and proud.
The Windy Hill Foundation, Robinson said, gave her all the things she needed to "build" herself, including patience, apparently. Robinson's house -- 1,180 square feet, one story, wood frame, no basement, no garage -- was three years in the making.
Harsh winter weather and a problem with getting electricity to the property caused long construction delays. The Loudoun chapter of Habitat also was experiencing "some growing pains," Green said. The chapter was founded about a decade ago, but Robinson's house was only its second project. The chapter's problems, Green said, "are all behind us now."
In fact, Loudoun Habitat for Humanity just finished a third house in Lovettsville. It's a twin of the one on Pennycress Lane, and it, too, was earmarked for a single mother, Erin Bowers. The local Habitat chapter plans to have a fourth house under construction this summer, Green said.
Robinson's house was dedicated at the end of May, when Habitat expected that she, her 7-year-old son, Marcus, and her three dogs already would be in residence. But a glitch with an occupancy permit caused one last delay, and Robinson was unable to move in until earlier this month.
That didn't, however, dampen the celebration, which included speeches, a blessing and a ribbon cutting, all chronicled by a film crew working on a documentary about Habitat. Robinson received several gifts, including a Bible and a birdhouse, plus two of the essentials of homeownership -- a lawnmower and a gift certificate to Home Depot.
She made sure that she gave herself a gift, too, in honor of the occasion -- a washer and dryer that she had picked up cheap at a thrift shop.
"It might seem simple to other people," Robinson said, sitting in the living room of her rental house at Windy Hill a few weeks ago, "but the thing that I'm most excited about is having a washer and dryer. No more going to the laundromat."