Originally created 05/12/00

Program provides homes

Elaine Voltz has always wanted a lavender room.

Last weekend, one of the first things she did after becoming a first-time homeowner was paint one of her three bedrooms a light purple hue.

After a lifetime of renting, Ms. Voltz last week bought a house in south Augusta with help from a new initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Teacher Next Door initiative, which officially kicked off at the beginning of May, enables teachers and public safety officers to buy homes in economically distressed areas for half-price in the school districts where they work.

"A house was not in my future plans, but this was something I couldn't pass up," Ms. Voltz said Thursday after a ceremony held outside her Sumac Drive house. The 45-year-old teaches second grade at C.T. Walker Elementary Magnet School and has been an educator for 17 years.

Ms. Voltz was able to purchase the three-bedroom, 1´-bathroom house at a 50 percent discount from its original market price of $56,500.

Her down payment? $100.

But the house is not without its problems.

For one, nobody has lived there in more than a year. Appliances will have to be replaced. Carpet is being torn up. And hardwood floors will be refinished.

The initiative provides mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration to help homeowners finance the cost of buying and renovating their new houses.

And come June 1, Ms. Voltz plans to be moved in and calling the yellow brick house with a white lamp post out front home.

"It'll take time, but it will be mine," Ms. Voltz said, standing amid paint cans and work tools scattered around the family room area.

Homes offered for sale under the Teacher Next Door program are acquired when the housing administration forecloses on homeowners unable to make mortgage payments. A similar program, Officer Next Door, has been in place since 1997, selling more than 3,300 HUD homes to the nation's police officers.

Both programs are funded by mortgage insurance premiums, as opposed to tax revenue.

School officials, city politicians and HUD representatives attended Thursday's ceremony, which was held in Ms. Voltz's new front yard.

"It takes an entire community to raise a child," said Dr. Charles Larke, superintendent of Richmond County Schools. "What better place to have public teachers and school safety officers than in the communities where children live?"

Between 8,000 and 10,000 single-family houses, townhouses and condominiums will be offered nationwide for teachers in 670 identified revitalization areas. The 30906 zip code has been identified in Augusta as being economically distressed, and officials are working to designate the 30901 zip code as another Teacher Next Door area.

Ms. Voltz plans to share the home with her two cats.

"I did a lot of praying about this, and everything fell into place," she said. "I must have looked at 10 different houses. This is the one that stood out."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.


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