The People's Tribune

Woman Finds Home In Bowling Green After Escaping From Hurricane Harvey

For Rita Webster, timing was everything.

She bought a house in Bowling Green through a program administered by the not-for-profit North East Community Action Corporation (N ECAC) after living for 26 years in Texas – leaving the Lone Star State just before Hurricane Harvey swamped her Houston apartment complex.

“The good Lord moved me out of there just in time,” said the 56-year-old Hannibal native. “It was like it was supposed to happen.”

Webster spent decades in retail and the grocery business, but is now disabled and no longer works. Her mother, Leola Webster, lives in New London and had urged her daughter to move closer to home.

Webster, who had rented her entire life, called NECAC last year after hearing about agency homeownership programs from a Bowling Green sister, Penny Dixon. Webster looked into the USDA Rural Development 502 Direct Loan Program administered by NECAC.

“People told me I couldn’t own a home because I’m on a fixed income,” she recalled. “They said I should just sign up for housing assistan The 502 Program is used by income-qualifying people to buy homes in rural areas. Participants must be able to afford the mortgage payments, including taxes and insurance. Loans are for 33 years, with the interest rate set by the lender. There is no down payment.

As part of the program, NECAC offers homeownership classes that teach participants about housing opportunities and financing, obstacles to homeownership, record-keeping, understanding credit, cash flow, meeting with financial institutions, getting a loan, taxes and other topics.

Each year, NECAC homeownership programs put more than 50 families on the road to a house purchase. In addition to USDA Rural Development, the agency works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Home Loan Bank, NeighborWorks America, Rural LISC, the St. Louis HOME Consortium and other organizations to provide home-ownership opportunities in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.

Webster looked at several houses in Bowling Green before she found one on East Main Street.

It’s perfect,” she said. “I fell in love with it right away, especially the kitchen because it’s so big.”

Webster’s mother and another sister, Patsy Whitley, drove to Texas and helped her pack. The three left Houston the night Harvey hit the Gulf Coast.

“We got out just ahead of them turning the highways counterflow, where all you can do is go north,” Webster said.

The trio arrived back in Missouri Aug. 2ECAC Homeownership Programs Director Alicia Lopez hopes Webster serves as a role model for others who would like to buy a home through the 502 program.

“It was a pleasure working with such an admirable woman,” Lopez said. “Rita is an inspiration and example that realizing the dream of homeownership is possible to many who think it’s not.”

Webster, who has three grown children and nine grandchildren and shares her home with an enthusiastic black cocker spaniel named “Shadae,” encourages others to take the leap of faith and call NECAC at 573-324-6622.

“Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it,” she said. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

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