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Real hope FOR A HOME

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Daphne Williams of Clearwater, 26 years old and the mother of seven children, had credit problems and owed $2,000.

"Every time I got a paycheck, I would just spend it, never think about saving anything, go buy this, go buy that," she recalled recently. "I couldn't save $10 a month if I tried."

But earlier this year, she and her husband, Tommy, cleared up their debts, saved $2,000 for a down payment on a house, and put another $2,000 in the bank. On April 26, they closed on a construction loan for the four-bedroom, 2{-bath house they're building in Clearwater for $78,700.

"I swear I never thought in all my days, with seven children, that I'll be owning a home," she says now with obvious pride. "I never thought this would be happening to me."

What made the difference for her _ and for dozens of other first-time buyers with financial problems _ is the HomeBuyers Club of Tampa Bay, a non-profit consumer group devoted to helping Pinellas County residents with low and moderate incomes become homeowners. The club is financed by Pinellas County and by the cities of Largo and St. Petersburg, and by donations from lenders, real estate agents and others in the home-buying industry. The only charge to members is a $10 fee to obtain a credit report.

In the club's first year, 22 of its 163 members were able to buy homes, and another 16 qualified for mortgages and are shopping for homes. The club estimates that debts paid, homes bought, expenses paid related to a home purchase, and taxes and maintenance add up to a potential annual impact on the local economy of $2.7-million.

"I can see the light now," said Betty Walker of Clearwater, who took a second job to help pay off $6,000 in debts. The individual attention and regular follow-up from the club's program coordinator, Randy Harvey, made all the difference, she said: "You have somebody in your corner even though it seems like an impossible situation. We all deserve a second chance, and the HomeBuyers Club is our second chance."