HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: COASTAL HABITAT’S NEW FAMILY
“I can never explain what choosing me for the house has done for me – I can now rebuild my family unity,” said the initially speechless Bingham, through tears and screams of joy. “I come from a real dark place – struggles for 15 years. I want to thank everyone who believed in me and listened to me.”
Bingham shared with the teary-eyed group that three years ago she was sleeping in the basement of a property just three lots away from where her new three bedroom one and one half bathroom 1400 square foot home is being built. Today, Bingham is employed at the Affordable Housing Alliance in Eatontown.
“I cannot wait to have my children all in one spot,” said Bingham, whose daughter is attending Cornell University on full scholarship and plans to return the new home after graduation. “I want to create traditions, celebrate holidays, be a family for the first time in a very, very long time.”
As emotions settled, friends and colleagues joked with Bingham – famous for her sweet potato soufflé and lemon meringue pie – about the first meal she will cook in her own kitchen. She promised it would be a good one.
“This is a change of life for Rhonda, a sense of stability,” said Donna Blaze, CEO, Affordable Housing Alliance. “All the work she put into making her life better is now coming back. She has been on pins and needles for a long time waiting for this decision.”
After an extensive screening process, Bingham was unanimously approved by Coastal Habitat’s Board of Trustees. Homeowners are chosen using three main criteria: an income of 25 to 50 percent of median income, credit history and need. The non-profit’s Family Selection Committee also conducts in-person visits with a prospective family to confirm all facts stated in the application.
When the research is completed, the committee “blindly” presents two to three homeowner candidates to the Board. Additionally, homeowners are committed to providing a minimum of 400 hours of “sweat equity” in the actual construction of their home.
“The mortgage for one home is used to fund the building of the next home and many times the mortgage is less than the prospective homeowner is paying in rent,” said Maureen Mulligan, executive director of Coastal Habitat. “The ‘need’ is defined by the applicant. The applicant explains why they would benefit from the home.”
Bingham will immediately put a one percent deposit on the home. When the LEED-certified home designed by local architect David Feldman is completed in early spring, Coastal Habitat will hold the 30-year no-interest mortgage to the $135,000 property, which is approximately what it cost to build the home. She will also be responsible for the homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and general maintenance.
“I have an 18 year old son who is ready to rake the leaves,” said Bingham.
This and the three additional home construction projects are a partnership between Coastal Habitat for Humanity, the City of Asbury Park, Affordable Housing Alliance and Interfaith Neighbors.
“A whole community has come together to help someone in need here,” said Mulligan. “Hundreds of volunteers have made this happen. Everyone involved in this project is in it to help the southwest side. It does not get any better than this.”
City Manager, Terry Reidy agreed.
“For forty years people have struggled to bring back the dignity and sense of community the southwest side had,” said City Manager Terry Reidy, while hugging Bingham. “Thanks to a wonderful group that has come together in a way like no other, Rhonda is the first back to that block and a gift to us to help create the community Asbury Park aspires to be. This is what building community is all about.”
Bingham’s new home – the 13th Coastal Habitat home – was made possible by individual area donors and sponsors, including: HUD/New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, City of Asbury Park, United Way, Wachovia, First Presbyterian Church at Red Bank, Richmond County Savings Foundation, TD Charitable Foundation and OceanFirst Bank.
“This is proof that dreams awaken and new possibilities arise,” said Bingham, with a smile like a child’s on Christmas morning.
Anyone interested in completing an application for another Coastal Habitat home should log on to CoastalHabitat.org or call Mulligan directly at 732.974.2422.