First Time & First-Of-A-Kind

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"God sent Robin and me to you guys," Michael Keen told a group of housing and government officials as he stood one spring morning in front of a 1700-square foot home on Delphine Street in Waynesboro, Virginia. It's a brand-new home, built by the Waynesboro Redevelopment and Housing Authority's HUD-funded Youthbuild.

[Photo: The Keens on wheelchair in front of their new home]
Photo by Mike Tripp/The News Leader

More importantly for the Keens, it's their home. Their very first home. "This time last year," Michael told the Staunton News Leader, "the thought of homeownership was merely a fantasy."

But thanks to HUD's Youthbuild program as well as down-payment assistance through a HOME grant for down payment and closing costs, a HUD Housing Choice Homeownership Voucher to help with their $90,000 mortgage and mortgage financing from the Virginia Housing Development Administration, "fantasy" has become reality.

Even better, the Keens are the first of a kind in Virginia. Both are wheelchair bound and their new home is the first built by the Authority, VHDA and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to provide homeownership opportunities for people with disabilities. Seven more already are planned for Waynesboro.

Robin Keen knows why it's so important, recalling how, while still a renter in a cramped, non-accessible apartment, she had "to align her wheelchair next to the stove and reach precariously over the hot surfaces, trying hard not to burn herself." Her husband recalls how, before learning of the program, they'd "spent hours searching for homes that were affordable and would fit their needs."

Their new home is equipped with specially designed appliances and wide, curving hallways. "We really tried to design this house for Michael and Robin," said Waynesboro Housing Authority Executive Director Eddie DeLapp.

And DeLapp and his colleagues clearly succeeded. "At first," Robin said, "it was, like, is this really ours." It's "surreal," added her husband, "It's kind of unbelievable right now."

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