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Home of their own

Debbie Anderson was divorced, bankrupt and on welfare with few prospects. then she began to pull her family out of hopelessness and into a home.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

PORT RICHEY -- For 16-year-old Crystal Anderson, it means that she can hope for her ruby-colored dream bedroom, the one she picked out of Better Homes and Gardens.

For her younger brothers Kyle, 14, and Matthew, 12, it means having a place to set up a basketball hoop, and a yard where they can invite friends to come play.

For their mom, Debbie, it means that the bankruptcy, the welfare checks, and a soured marriage are a thing of the past.

It is the first house she has ever owned.

"I really think about it when I'm lying in bed at night," said Debbie Anderson, 46. "I still can't believe it's mine."

* * *

Debbie Anderson took advantage of the first-time home buyers program offered to residents of Pasco, Polk and Pinellas through the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County.

The Housing Authority offers a program with a 6.65 percent interest rate that's fixed for 30 years, plus provides down payment and closing cost assistance equal to 4 percent of the loan.

Without the program, it would have cost Anderson $6,114 to get into her Regency Park home. But with the $2,754 in assistance from the Housing Authority, plus the seller's $3,000 contribution, she only paid $360.

Not bad for a $69,400 home.

"I wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise," Anderson said.

Her monthly mortgage payment is $587 -- that's $16 less than if she would have paid the market interest rate.

And it's $80 less a month than she paid to rent an apartment.

For Debbie Anderson and her kids, having a house to her name, a room of her own and a steady job with HCA's accounts payable department is light years away from the life she lived just five years ago in California.

She'd gotten out of a bad marriage and spent a year on welfare. In 1997, faced with the prospect of having to take a night shift and look for overnight daycare, she decided to make a new start.

She packed her kids, two cats and her hopes into a compact Ford Aspire, and set out on an eight-day road trip to Largo to join her sister.

Anderson found a job with HCA -- the Healthcare Co., crammed the family into a two-bedroom apartment and shared bunk beds with her teenage daughter.

And she started to think about putting down roots.

"Because of the turmoil they'd had gone through, I felt like I needed to give my kids a foundation," she said. "I wanted something I could call mine, a place where if I wanted to paint the walls black with red stripes well, then that's my business."

But being new on the job, new in the state, and having a bankruptcy on her record, she didn't know if that would be possible.

She'd heard about home buyer assistance programs in Clearwater, and spent the next two years trying to qualify for one: She focused on staying in her job, rebuilding her credit record, paying the rent, the car insurance and the phone bills on time.

"I had to start buckling down and make it a reality," Anderson said.

By July 2001, she'd saved nearly $1,500.

She looked at six houses but fell in love with the first one she'd seen -- a beige stucco house with the well-kept oatmeal-colored carpets, the garage, the porch and three bedrooms.

Even though it was a 45-minute drive each way to her office in Palm Harbor, she knew it was the one.

"Compared to California that's a cake walk," she said of the commute.

* * *

Debbie Anderson beams, gazing around her photo-filled family room. She reflects on what makes her proud:

At night, she can hear the wind chimes that hang on her porch, instead of noisy neighbors in the upstairs apartment.

Nothing in her neatly kept house is financed -- not the $45 kitchen table, not the $49 hutch, not the clothing dresser she picked out for her daughter.

And she's proud that the lessons she learned from going on welfare, and coming back out, have stayed with her and her children, Anderson said.

"If anything it taught me that if you want something bad enough, you save for it."

-- Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is

For information

For information on any of the FHA's first time home buyer programs, call toll free 1-800-806-5154 or visit the Web site at

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