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Townhomes of dreams
Eight families get a second chance because of the efforts of Covington, Habitat
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Lakisha Johnson was moving backwards and grasping for something, anything to hold onto. Several years ago life had seemed so bright — she’d been in a relationship and had just bought her own house.

The relationship turned sour along with the economy, so she moved into a more manageable apartment. Though the mortgage changed to a rent payment, her other bills remained high — eventually too high. And just like that, Johnson found herself and her three children living in her grandmother’s house, without a place of their own.

"I was trying to find out where I was going next. Me and my kids were all in the same room, I was trying to figure … I didn’t know which direction we were going in, she said. "I was just lost."

Her compass came in the form of a friend, who told Johnson that Habitat for Humanity was accepting applications at the Covington library. Even then, Johnson thought the application was just a shot in the dark.

But then the phone rang and Johnson was called in for an interview. Another step, but help still seemed like a distant dream.

Johnson is still expecting to wake up, to be pinched, to be told it isn’t real. Because not even in her dreams did she see such a turnaround in store for herself; not even there did she expect the phone call to come. Not even there did she herself in a house again.

"When I got the call it was like God calling, like a savoir had come for me. It’s really a blessing. I never thought I’d be able to own a house again," Johnson said. "In the process of me trying to catch up on my bills that phone call came. They told me to go pick out my house. I said ‘Go pick out my house?’ Until I got the keys I was in shock. I’m still in shock now."

Johnson was one of eight families that were sold townhomes in Walker’s Bend. The foreclosed homes had been purchased by the City of Covington using Neighborhood Stabilization Program money, courtesy of the stimulus package.

While the program has been ineffective and maligned in other communities, Covington managed to spend its money quickly and all in one place. The city partnered with the Covington chapter of Habitat for Humanity; the non-profit group renovated the homes, chose the families and took care of the complicated monetary agreements with the state.

Habitat President Jeremy Shearer had hoped to move the families in before Christmas, but it was that complicated stimulus reporting process that held everything up. The families eventually moved in on Feb. 25.

The properties cost nearly $400,000, while repairs cost around $23,000. Covington was the first governmental entity to spend all of its money and received an additional $75,000 from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs earlier this year. City Planning Director Randy Vinson said the city would continue to pursue properties in Walker’s Bend if possible.

Mayor Kim Carter said the NSP is a big-part of the city’s overall housing plans, and she hopes it sets the stage for even greater improvement.

"The big winners are eight families that now have an affordable new home to live in. At the end of the day, we hope we have positively impacted the quality of life for those eight families and all of the families living in the Walker's Bend subdivision," Carter said in an e-mail. "Long term, we hope to have a safe, stable, mixed use neighborhood that everyone can be proud to call home."

Heather and James Sorrows are another one of the eight families that are proud to call the subdivision their new home. Like Johnson, the Sorrows had lost their home and had been forced to move in with one of Heather’s relatives.

"It seemed like everything fell apart at one time," said Heather. Though they were struggling, the Sorrows used that time to pay their bills and get out of debt. "We put everything in perspective and gave it our best shot."

She said her family had thought about owning a home again, but it’s always a risky proposition. But by working with Habitat, she managed to have peace of mind, because the group understands hardships and works with its’ mortgage owners to solve problems. In addition, Habitat repaired everything and gave the families appliances that had been donated.

One of her greatest joys is the pride that her young daughter and older son show in having their own rooms.

"She loves it. She tells everyone that ‘I have my own room now.’ It’s awesome," Heather said.

Habitat’s humanitarian spirit hasn’t been lost on Johnson either; she’s knows how truly blessed she is.

"The mortgage, and everything, is reasonable, more than reasonable. It’s like a survival (rate). Who moves into a house and pays a $300 mortgage a month? It hasn’t event set in, even though I paid my first month," she said. "I paid $300; that’s it. It’s like the light of God — a true blessing."