'Big Momma' is Habitat's biggest fan

Thursday, August 10, 2017
Rosemary Sales and her dog Bella are shown Wednesday at the home that she helped construct with Bedford Builds Habitat For Humanity. Her mortgage payment is about half what she had been paying in rent.
T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

Rosemary Sales is buying into an investment that will likely pay off for her grandson one day.

She bought her new home on Nutmeg Drive in 2011 with the help of Bedford Builds Habitat for Humanity. She said she never thought she would own a home. Before, she was paying $700 to $800 a month to rent a house near Blue Ribbon Parkway. Her utilities were built into the rent, so she never knew month to month what her bill would be. Now, her mortgage, property taxes and insurance are about half that amount.

"Big Momma," as the neighborhood children call her, is raising her grandson while living on disability. He does not receive child support or food stamps but does have TennCare.

Thomas Bucka carries a box of donated items into Habitat's indoor "garage sale" on Tuesday. Proceeds from the garage sale benefit the charity.
T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

Extra money

Having a low mortgage payment means she can set money aside for emergencies, which is good since she had to make $700 in repairs to her car a couple of weeks ago. She could not have done that while paying her high rent.

"Thank the Lord I haven't had anything to be fixed on this home, but if you're buying a home, you've got to do the upkeep," she said.

Habitat for Humanity is not a handout -- rather, the Christian organization provides a way for low-income people to buy an affordable home with their money, said Pam Birtcil, executive director.

Habitat teaches applicants the ins and outs of homeownership in mandatory classes and screens for criminal history and credit history, she said. Home buyers, who must live in Bedford County, are required to work 350 "sweat equity hours" in building their home. They must save $750 toward closing costs. They must have a steady income for one year. They must meet federal income guidelines.

Then, if they meet all the requirements, the buyers will receive a 0 percent interest loan and make low monthly mortgage payments.

Selling, not giving

"We sell homes -- we don't give them away," Birtcil said.

She is still educating the public about Habitat's mission, she said.

Sales is one of her biggest champions.

"You cannot beat a home like a Habitat home," she said. "Habitat is a family. You couldn't ask for a better family than Habitat, other than your own family."

Sales said she helped build two other Habitat houses in her neighborhood. Her health has taken a downward turn, forcing her to stop building. She loves her house, her neighborhood and her neighbors. She sits on the back deck frequently and reads the Bible. Her neighbors are peaceful people, unlike some in her previous neighborhood.

"When you're renting you don't know who you're going to be beside, and you've got to listen to a lot of crap, and I've been around people who do drugs," she said. "When you're in that kind of environment your life is miserable. I don't do drugs, I don't drink. I live a Christian life. That's the way I raise my grandson."

Sales had to work to achieve that peace. She applied three or four times for the Habitat program.

"But I didn't give up," she said.