MADAWASKA, Maine — Christopher and Erica Thibodeau of Madawaska thought often about owning a home but considered it a far-off dream.
While both are employed at Marden’s in the community, they do not earn very much more than minimum wage and, after paying their living expenses, do not have a great deal left over.
“Our credit is fine,” Erica Thibodeau said Friday. “But we would have never had the money to put a 10 percent or so down payment on a home. We figured we’d be renters for much of our lives.”
But they figured wrong, thanks to a program offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The couple tapped into the agency’s Single Family Housing 502 Direct Program and in March signed papers to close a deal that secured a home for themselves and their two children, Cyprian, 7, and Kristiana, 1.
The family was recognized Friday in a brief ceremony at their home on Pleasant Street by USDA Rural Development to commemorate National Homeownership Month in June. After a year of renting the home, they now are paying the mortgage. The payment is only slightly more than their monthly rent and they are building equity for their future at the same time.
Section 502 loans are used primarily to help low-income individuals or households purchase homes in rural areas, according to the USDA Rural Development website. Funds can be used to build, repair, renovate or relocate a home or to purchase and prepare sites, including providing water and sewage facilities.
Loans for the modest homes, which must meet certain criteria and inspection standards, are up to 33 years, or 38 years in some instances.
“In the past three years, we have moved four times,” Thibodeau said Friday. “This last time, we found a home to rent and after awhile decided that we really wanted to buy it. We just could not afford to make the down payment and we were concerned about taxes and things, so we could not find any bank or credit union programs that we could access. When I was working at Marden’s, a customer came in and told me about the USDA program.”
The family found out about the 502 Direct Program and soon learned that they qualified.
“We met the income guidelines, so we did not have to make a down payment and we have a fixed rate for the loan,” she said. “We were spending $400 to $500 a month in rent and we had just enough left over to get by. Now we are paying under $500 and that money is going toward something we’ll own. It is a much better way to do it.”
Virginia Manuel, USDA Rural Development state director, presented the family with a signed, framed photo of the home during the brief ceremony. Other USDA Rural Development representatives were present, as were officials from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe’s and Susan Collins’ offices, and from the office of Rep. Mike Michaud.
While she and her husband are happy, their children seem the most thrilled, Thibodeau said Friday.
“They are a lot happier,” she said. “This is a nice neighborhood and the children are always out playing. My son is always out in our yard or in a nearby yard with a friend. It’s fantastic.”