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STONE MOUNTAIN, GA. — Nearly three months after an injury forced him into an early retirement from the military, former Army Spc. Chris White thought he was coming to Georgia to speak about the challenges of transitioning into civilian life. Instead he and four other military families also in transition received a surprise Saturday: a chance to own homes in metro Atlanta with no monthly mortgage to pay.
The military veterans charity Operation Homefront, along with Wells Fargo bank and equipment rental company United Rentals, announced the home donations to the five families during an event at Stone Mountain Park. White, 31, said he has been applying for a home through the charity for months. He didn’t expect to find out he was getting one during his trip to Georgia.
White was told he was being flown from his family’s current home in San Antonio, Texas, to speak at a job seminar in metro Atlanta.
“It definitely was a surprise,” he said. “It’s immeasurable the way that this helps you. If you think about it, the most important thing for a family is a home. My daughter is 5 years old and she’s never really been able to settle down anywhere.”
Since March 2012, Operation Homefront has worked in partnership with Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and Bank of America to find mortgage-free homes for families of military vets who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. Some homes that are in foreclosure or otherwise owned by the banks get donated to the charity rather than put up for auction.
Amy Palmer, Operation Homefront’s chief development officer, says her organization has placed 110 military families into donated homes in the past year. The families have no mortgage to pay, though they must cover property taxes and other expenses. They live in their homes for one to two years while working with a social worker and financial planner before the houses are deeded to them.
The program is aimed at wounded or injured service members who have to leave the military because of their medical conditions. White, who deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman, suffered a badly broken leg when he was hit by a car back in the U.S. After 12 years in the Army, he’s still trying to decide on a civilian career.
“They’ve got to live on an amount they’re not used to living on,” Palmer said. “Some are employable and some aren’t, so it really is an adjustment. It’s harder to buy homes now. Most of these families would never have qualified for a home loan.”
Families of the four Army veterans and one Marine who are getting the donated homes in metro Atlanta all have family ties to Georgia. White’s family and three others will be returning from far-flung parts of the country where they live now: Texas, California and Alaska.
Palmer said the five home donations in metro Atlanta are the most the charity has done at once. Wells Fargo donated the properties, which had been in foreclosure and have a combined estimated value of $845,000.
Each of the Atlanta area homes is also getting as much as $30,000 worth of new paint, new carpet and other maintenance, paid for by United Rentals, before the new occupants move in, Palmer said.