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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2004

Gathering at Ability Center honors area program for home ownership

Neal Whipple wanted buy a house but was told his disability payments weren't enough to secure a mortgage. Then the 24-year-old paraplegic, who had been living with his mom, found out about a Fannie Mae program that helps disabled people get mortgages.

"I was just really looking to get on my own and be independent," said Mr. Whipple. He was injured in a 1997 auto accident while making deliveries for a greenhouse.

"It's always been a dream to grow up and own a house. I never thought that I would do it on my own."

Mr. Whipple, who bought a North Toledo house about six months ago, is one of the first people locally to use Fannie Mae's Community HomeChoice program, which gives special consideration to non-wage sources of income like disability benefits for mortgages.

Under the program, people with disabilities who have low or moderate incomes may quality for a mortgage with as little as a 3 percent down payment. They can use gifts or grants to come up with the down payment as long as they provide $500 themselves.

Locally, mortgage financing is offered through Northern Ohio Investment Co. in Sylvania, and officials from both firms gathered with others yesterday at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo to make note of the program. So far, three people or families have received mortgages through the program, said Michael Tullis, senior loan office for Northern Ohio Investment.

Qualifying low and moderate-income families with a disabled relative living with them are eligible for the program too. As part of the program, people with disabilities will have access to organizations offering resources and services, such as getting grants that can be used to install wheelchair ramps.

A couple with disabilities who bought a South Toledo house late last year, Tracy and Brian Mills, had been living with their two young children in a mobile home in Bowling Green.

"It was just like living in a tin can, basically," said Mrs. Mills, who spotted their first house on the way to her sister's place. "I told my husband every time we went over there 'That house has my name written all over it.'‚óŹ"

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