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Habitat for Humanity homeowners burn their mortgages

By Staff | Feb 2, 2016

The dream of every homeowner is that special day when they make that final payment on their home, making it all theirs free and clear.

It’s even more special for Habitat for Humanity homeowners, who probably never thought they would ever be able to buy their own home, much less pay it off.

But that they did, and Tuesday, Habitat for Humanity celebrated 15 families who this past year were able to finish off their mortgages by taking their mortgage papers and tossing them into the fire.

Savannah Melton, director of communications at Habitat, said the mortgage burning is a tradition that celebrates the end of a journey that began years ago.

“The mortgage burning is where we bring in the families who have satisfied their mortgages to walk the red carpet and toss their mortgage into the fire to symbolize they are mortgage free,” Melton said. “We have 150 families who have paid them in full.”

Six families attended this year’s event and expressed joy that they successfully finished the process of home ownership.

Jerry Benjamin, and his wife were among those who celebrated. They bought their Habitat home in 1997 and even had a gift for Habitat waiting for them for all the help they got, a plaque.

“It’s a proud day. They taught us how to take care of our home and they didn’t hand it to us. We had to earn it,” Benjamin said. “If you stick with it, you see the end. Now, we get to put the mortgage in the fire.”

Some journeys didn’t go as smoothly as others. Lisa Ziegler suffered tragedy and misfortune before the ink dried on her mortgage in 2005. She was divorced with three girls who lived in a trailer when she went through the Habitat process.

The car broke down, the ex-husband died and, when the economy tanked, she lost her job and was unemployed for three years. Thankfully, Habitat adjusted her mortgage and helped her get back on her feet.

“They were really good at getting me through the rough times. This represents a lifetime of being in one spot and not having a mortgage,” Ziegler said. “Things have gotten better. The kids grew up and moved out.”

For, Shirley Harris, it was an amazing moment after 16 years of paying it off. She also had her tough moments, but still managed to make it through.

“I had three kids when I got my Habitat home and went through a divorce. All the work was worth it. The house is a blessing,” Harris said.

Kitty Green, President/CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, said if the day families move into their homes is a great part of her job, the mortgage burning is 10 times better.

“They made it all the way through and less than 30 percent of homeowners ever pay off their mortgage. For these low-income homeowners to manage that milestone is pretty impressive,” Green said. “For them, it was the work they achieved up front. They knew this was something they earned and an opportunity they got that not many people get.”