Nearly 20 military veterans gathered at the City Council Chambers last Wednesday evening to learn more about “Homes For the Brave,” a pilot program Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Ward 8 candidate Joseph Gallucci, both veterans, are introducing to the city.
Along with three representatives from Helping Hands Community Partners, a new non-profit organization based in Wrentham, Mass. that aims to match veterans with refurbished foreclosed properties, Vella-Wilkinson said it is a “phenomenal” program and hopes vets will take advantage of the opportunity for high-quality housing.
Wells Fargo, the number one Veterans Administration (VA) lender in the country, is working with Helping Hands and has agreed to waive application fees for veterans.
Vella-Wilkinson noted that, although the program is using Wells Fargo, an applicant is free to use any lending institution of their choice.
During the meeting, Bill Fegley, Cliff Morin and Bob Sacchetti, managing directors for the organization, explained that the process begins with a veteran filling out a “dream sheet” with a description of his or her ideal living situation.
At that point, the veteran pre-qualifies with Wells Fargo or another lender, and is matched to available properties.
If the veteran doesn’t pre-qualify, the organization arranges to get the vet in a “Home Path” program to help them with their credit.
“One of two things is going to happen: you’re either going to be approved immediately and we’re going to find something for you, or we’re going to get you in a program that gets you on the path to being approved,” Fegley said. “This is a plan for homeownership – no is not an answer. You can potentially own for less than renting.”
After Helping Hands acquires the homes, they rehab them and bring them up to VA standards and offer the veteran a 10 percent discount on the appraised value.
A few veterans, as well as their loved ones, expressed concern, noting that it seems too good to be true.
Norman Lincoln, who served in the Navy for eight years before enlisting in the Army, felt they made it sound simple to acquire a home.
“It’s not that easy,” Lincoln said.
Fegley replied, “Nothing’s easy, but this is the first step.”
Elise Wills also attended the meeting. She was there with her boyfriend, Mark Medina, who served in the Marine Corps and is now active in the National Guard. Wills and Medina were concerned with the website, claiming it lacks important information.
“It just says, ‘fill out the application, fill out the application, fill out the application,’” Wills said. “You need to bulk it up and put more information on the website so people don’t have to put their [personal] information in and not know where it goes.”
Fegley, along with Sacchetti, said she made a great point, which they plan to address right away. Fegley said he met with a web administrator who can make the changes. He also gave her his business card and told her he’d follow up with her to see what she thinks of the improvements.
“We want Warwick to be successful,” Fegley said. “Our mission is to get this community back on its feet. I have no other desire than to put qualified people back into those houses.”
Sacchetti added that it’s a no-fee, no-commitment program with no strings attached.
“This is not a feel-good, one- or two-house giveaway,” he said.
Vella-Wilkinson said that she also thought it sounded too good to be true when she heard about it in May. But after learning more about it, she saw its benefits for veterans and residents. Vacant homes can be breeding grounds for vermin, termites and burglars.
“I want you to consider that we learned about the program in May and you’re learning about it now in September,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “The questions you asked were very similar to the questions we asked. We’re not trying to exploit veterans – I would not have anything to do with exploiting veterans. The best time in my life is the time I spent in uniform.”
Tim Howe of the U.S. Army and the commander of the Disabled American Veterans met with Vella-Wilkinson earlier this year to learn about the program. While he agrees that more can be done to inform veterans, he is in favor of it.
“This is something that could work,” he said. “It’s a sincere effort to fill the abandoned houses in Warwick with people who qualify for VA loans.”
The program is available to any veteran who has served 180 consecutive days in the military and received an honorable discharge.
To learn more or to fill out an application, visit www.helpinghandscommunitypartners.org.