"Everyone would love to have a veteran as a neighbor and the number one value in our country is homeownership, so let’s put the two of them together and make this work,” said Bill Fegley, managing director for Helping Hands Community Partners, a new non-profit organization based in Wrentham, Mass. that aims to pair military veterans with refurbished foreclosed properties. “We’ve already taken applications.”
Fegley, along with Cliff Morin and Bob Sacchetti, also managing directors for the organization, formed Helping Hands Community Partners within the last nine months. They modeled it after a program that they said has been successful in Chicago. They hope to initiate the program in Warwick, which, according to Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, has more than 700 vacant residential properties.
Friday afternoon they met with Vella-Wilkinson and Ward 8 Coucil candidate Joseph Gallucci, both veterans as well as Democrats, at their campaign headquarters on Jefferson Boulevard.
The candidates said they see great value in the program, not only for veterans but also for all residents, as vacant homes often can be breeding grounds for vermin, termites and even burglars. Additionally, having more homes on the tax rolls can’t hurt.
“One of the biggest complaints that we get outside of public safety and speeding is minimum housing issues,” Vella-Wilkinson said at the meeting. “The homes are vacant, abandoned and are falling into ruin. They create a problem in the community because they are eyesores and veterans can help take back the city, in terms of reoccupying those abandoned homes.”
Gallucci agreed and added, “I’m all for whatever help we can give to veterans. They are deserving.”
Also in attendance were Army veterans Chad McFarlane and David Rothermel, and Anthony Paolino, an active member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard, who also serves as the chairman and CEO of the Rhode Island Military Organization. They, too, agree that the program has the potential to be a “win-win” for everyone involved.
Vella-Wilkinson and Gallucci vowed to help raise more awareness about the program and set up a public presentation to be held Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Council Chambers in City Hall to better inform veterans and encourage them to apply for mortgages. Members of Wells Fargo, which Fegley said happens to be the number one VA lender in the country, is working with Helping Hands Community Partners and will be in attendance. The institution has agreed to waive all application fees for veterans.
“We can say Warwick’s welcome map is red, white and blue,” said Vella-Wilkinson, who noted that although the program is currently using Wells Fargo, an applicant has the right to use any lending institution he or she chooses.
Fegley explained that the program begins with a veteran filling out a “dream sheet,” which entails his or her description of an optimum living situation, whether it be a single-family or two-family home, ranch-style house, a house with a yard, and so forth. The veteran is then either pre-qualified with Wells Fargo or another lender and is matched to available properties in the area. From there, Helping Hands Community Partners works on procuring the properties. If the veteran doesn’t pre-qualify, Helping Hands Community Partners arranges to get them in a “Home Path” program that helps them with their credit and understand what it takes to get a home.
“It’s about having a plan,” Fegley said. “We want to let them know what they qualify for. We follow up with them so when they are ready we can help them get their house. We feel the significant part is getting the veterans on this path to homeownership – it isn’t just about occupying the property. It’s about becoming part of the community and it’s a way to redevelop these communities.”
Sacchetti said it’s important to remember that the applications are required in order for the organization to go to the bank and acquire the property. The buyers, he said, drive the program.
“We can’t just go and get 20 houses, so the more veterans that apply to the program gives us more potency when we go to the banks,” he said. “We can say, ‘Look, we have 200 people that want to buy a house in this area.’ And that means we invest time and money into those homes to recoup those costs. It’s a motivating factor for everybody, including the bank.”
When they acquire the homes, they then rehab them and bring them up to health and VA standards. Some of the homes have issues, such as septic or mold problems. When they are updated, Helping Hands Community Partners then offers the veteran a 10 percent discount on the appraised market value.
Any veteran who has served at least 180 consecutive days in the military and received an honorable discharge may apply.
“I appreciate everybody’s service, and we owe those guys something in return,” Fegley said.
Sacchetti said he started the original Helping Hands Foundation in 1997 to raise awareness and funds for the Sacred Heart Missions, the Lupus Foundation, the ALS Association and Meals on Wheels. The veteran program is another mission he holds close to his heart.
“This has been a pet project of mine for a long time,” he said. “I got together with Bill and Cliff and we found our niche.”
For privacy purposes, applications can be filled out online at www.helpinghandscommunitypartners.org.