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A family’s 15-year journey to get a home of their own

By Lore Croghan

It took Albert Wiggins 15 years of doing without extras and part-time work as a deejay to save enough money for a down payment.

But he really wanted to buy a place.

“I wanted to do something good for my kids,” said Wiggins, 46, a schoolbus driver for Atlantic Express.

Wiggins and Jones were both born in the Rockaways and have always lived there. Jones works as an aide at Public School 42, which they both attended. They didn’t want to leave the area – it was home.

Wiggins didn’t have much savings; he put away just $25 a week in his savings account. But the couple were determined. They stopped taking vacations and going out to eat. They cut back on spending for the kids’ school clothes, and even groceries.

He raised his income to $50,000 a year by working as DJ Buddy, party host for hire. Reggae, salsa, meringue – you name it, he played it. He socked away tax refunds, too. Over time, his savings reached $28,000.

Jones also worked a second job, as a registration clerk for the Police Athletic League, which increased her earnings to $22,000 a year.

Four and a half years ago, Jones went to a homebuyers’ fair where she signed up for classes from Margert Community Corp., a nonprofit housing counseling agency in the Rockaways. Wiggins took the free first-time buyers’ course, too.

They learned to stay away from predatory lenders.

When they started househunting and encountered a real estate agent who called every day, promising to provide a loan, a lawyer and a home inspector, they sensed trouble.

“He was more interested in doing the deal than I was,” Wiggins said.

They decided to try to buy a home in a development Margert was sponsoring, not far from the Ocean Bay complex.

Developer Hudson Companies was building 112 houses on an urban renewal site in the Edgemere section of the Rockaways for families with incomes of $75,000 or less.

The developer and the city Housing Partnership Development Corp. held a lottery for the houses and got more than 850 applications.

They offered the properties with government subsidies and grants to lower their purchase prices. One grant, of $25,000, was only for public-housing residents like Jones.

The couple qualified to buy a detached two-family house off Rockaway Beach Blvd. It was valued at a bit more than $500,000. After factoring in subsidies and grants, they got it for $325,000.
Wiggins tapped his savings acount for the 5% down payment.

“Writing that check was a good feeling,” he said.

With his high credit score of nearly 800, they got a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5.625% from HSBC. Wiggins built up his credit record by paying off $10,000 in credit card debt years before, and using his cards carefully after that.

In late July, five days after their closing, they moved into their new place.

Daughters Uvonnie, 13, Candice, 20, and Dominique, 23, and son Albert Jr., 16, share the second and third floors of the house with them. So do their grandchildren – Candice’s 1-year-old daughter, Amirah, and Dominique’s 3-month-old son, Tavier.

The monthly mortgage payment is $2,080 – but $1,000 of it comes from the rent from the first-floor tenant’s unit, occupied by Wiggins’ nephew, Edwin.

“I have heard so many stories from friends about their tenants from hell,” Wiggins said. “I’m really blessed.”

The remaining $1,080 for the mortgage is less than his and Jones’ combined previous rents – his was $700, hers $650.

But there are new expenses that come with homeownership, such as water bills and flood insurance.

To try to ensure they won’t get caught in a financial jam, Wiggins took another part-time job, doing deliveries for an auto-parts business.

The couple spent $10,000 on appliances for their new house. He really loves their Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer, particularly because he used to take his clothes to a laundermat.

Sod for the back yard would have cost $5,000, so they bought soil and seed for $600. The grass came in nicely.

They’re waiting until next year to install a $6,000 fence made of salt-resistant polyvinyl chloride like some of their neighbors have.

For fun, Wiggins climbs a ladder to the flat-topped roof – what he calls his penthouse. He can see the Manhattan skyline and the control tower of Kennedy Airport, but his favorite view is of the Atlantic Ocean, its glittering waves crossed by ships.

Jones doesn’t much care for ladders, so she sits on the front steps or in the backyard at night and enjoys the tranquility.

“At first, I didn’t think it was possible to own a home,” she said. “It feels great.”


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