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Army veteran gets mortgage-free house in Goddard

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, at 6:44 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, at 12:06 a.m.

Photos

Wells Fargo on Thursday donated a foreclosed house in Goddard to an Army veteran.

Army Spc. Victoria Van Horn was handed the keys to her three-bedroom home on the east side of Goddard by Wells Fargo region president Kirk Kellner.

In between tears, the first phrase out of Van Horn’s mouth when she entered her new home Thursday afternoon was a phrase she would repeat several times: “This is crazy.”

Van Horn, after seven years as a military police officer in the Army, is being medically discharged for injuries she suffered on active duty as a reservist. “Thank you guys, so much. This is crazy.”

The ranch-style home was provided to Van Horn by the bank through San Antonio-based Operation Homefront, an 11-year-old veteran support organization that provides bank-donated homes to active-duty military personnel and veterans through its Homes on the Homefront program. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase also are bank partners in the program that is expected to provide 100 mortgage-free homes to military personnel and veterans this year.

Amanda Shaunessy, a housing case worker for Operation Homefront who is assigned to Van Horn, said military personnel and veterans who receive a mortgage-free home for the first year are essentially a “tenant” of Operation Homefront.

While they don’t pay a mortgage, they are responsible for paying property taxes, homeowner’s association fees and maintenance fees. They are also expected to start a savings account and set aside money there specifically for any unexpected costs that arise from home ownership.

During the “transition” year, the new homeowner receives quarterly visits from an Operation Homefront caseworker, which includes an inspection of the home as well as follow-up on other matters, such as whether the veteran is having any issues with receiving benefits and whether the veteran needs assistance with their budget and other financial planning, Shaunessy said.

“We want to make sure they get used to the costs of owing a home,” she said. “Many of our families have never owned a home before. It’s grooming them to be an ideal homeowner.”

Shaunessy said this is the first home donation Operation Homefront has made in Wichita since the Homes on the Homefront program was launched in 2012.

Kirk Kellner, Wells Fargo region president for Kansas, who is based in Omaha, said the Van Horn donation is the first his company has made in the Wichita area, too.

It’s part of a $30 million commitment Wells Fargo made to provide veterans and military personnel mortgage-free homes. This year the bank has donated 81 homes across the country. “There are 45 more in the pipeline,” he said.

He said the homes his bank donates have been repossessed, but they are repaired and cleaned at Wells Fargo’s expense before they are turned over to the new homeowner.

Kellner said he doesn’t know if there is a tax benefit for the bank when it donates a repossessed home.

“It’s really a way to say thank you to veterans and to stabilize neighborhoods,” he said.

This is the third time Kellner has presented a mortgage-free home to a veteran.

“I shouldn’t get paid to work on days like today,” he said.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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