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Blaze of glory -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Blaze of glory

About 60 families in Florida’s Lee and Hendry counties have celebrated paying off their mortgages by burning the papers in a special ceremony.

Mortgage burnings are warm reminders of the stability built by Habitat
By Phil Kloer

 

Inay Ingram feeds a copy of her paid-off mortgage papers into the fire pit on the front lawn of Lee and Hendry Counties Habitat for Humanity in 2012. Photo courtesy of Ginny Cooper/Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties

   
   
 

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Inay Ingram burst through the front door of her local Habitat office, screaming, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Jesus! I did it! I did it!”

The staff of Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, in Fort Myers, Florida, came rushing out of their offices. They knew what was happening: Another homeowner had just hand-delivered her final monthly mortgage check. Her mortgage was paid off. The 54-year-old grandmother owned her home free and clear.

“I can never thank you people enough for believing in me and trusting me to pay it off,” Ingram told the staff.

That was October 2011. Four months later, she had a chance to repeat her outpouring of gratitude when she took part in a mortgage-burning ceremony with other Habitat families on the front lawn of the nonprofit’s headquarters. As she threw a copy of her mortgage papers into a fire pit, she said, “I cried. I carried on. I just thanked God that the day was finally here. And I threw the papers in the fire pit, and it just felt out of this world.”

Years ago, mortgage-burning ceremonies were a familiar touchstone; one of the most famous was a fictional one, held by Archie Bunker on the sitcom “All in the Family.” But because of increasing mobility, along with increases in mortgage refinancing, fewer people keep a mortgage for the standard 30 years and pay it off. And in the past few years, the news about mortgages has mostly been less than celebratory: They’re upside down; they’re underwater; they’re foreclosed.

That’s one of the reasons Habitat builds — to provide stability even in times of economic distress, to provide affordable mortgages even when money is tight.

‘Everything we stand for’


In Fort Myers, where Habitat of Lee and Hendry Counties is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the completion of more than 1,200 homes, there has been much cause for rejoicing.

“One of the benefits of having been around for a long time is you get more and more homeowners who actually pay off their mortgage,” said Kitty Green, executive director of the local Habitat office.

“We have 104 paid-off mortgages,” she said. “Mortgages run for different lengths, from 15 to 30 years, and some people pay them off early.”

There have been three mortgage-burning ceremonies at the Fort Myers office, with a total of about 60 homeowner families. Each was presented with a plaque and a copy of their mortgage papers, which they put into a fire pit.

“Everyone invites their friends and family, and we serve hot dogs and punch and cake,” Green said. “Everybody hoots and hollers and claps. It’s very moving. It’s the culmination of everything we stand for.”