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Giving Matters: When A House Is More Than A House

Affordable Housing, Education and Development (AHEAD) provides low-income housing, but also helps people with an array of financial issues from budget counseling to foreclosure intervention.

The Gordon’s house in Colebrook started out as a second home, but 11 years ago in anticipation of retirement they moved into the house full time.


Deborah Gordon is a retired nurse’s assistant, her husband, Jack, retired from his job with the phone company a few years earlier. In May, 2012 they were working in their garden, planting some tomatoes. Says Deborah, “Then he went off to the shed to tinker, cuz that’s what he did and I stayed and worked in the flower beds. Usually I can hear him singing or whistling or cussing or hollering something over at me, he was always doing something. And I didn’t hear him.”


Deborah wandered over to the shed to check on him and found him on the ground in cardiac arrest, he later died. In the midst of her grief she realized she was unprepared to assume responsibilities for the household budget. “Jack took care of all the finances. I didn’t know where anything was. I knew who the mortgage company was, but I didn’t know where to send the bills or any of that. I kind of just shut down.”


Jack’s Social Security check covered the mortgage and car payments, as well as the insurance premiums. When he died, Deborah was entitled to survivor benefits but the monthly check was now only about a third of what it had been, “which was not a whole lot of money to live on and pay all the bills so I really fell behind on everything.” At one point Deborah was three months behind on her mortgage.


“I was sitting with everything spread out on the table and I was thinking I’m going to lose the house.” Then she remembered a flyer she had once seen for the AHEAD program and called them up for some help. “I never thought I would be going to someone and asking can you help me with my house.”


She found all the relevant documents and statements and brought them to the office for a consult. They encourage Deborah to write to her mortgage lender explaining her situation. But Deborah didn’t hold out much hope, “To me I’d already lost the house. I felt like I couldn’t help Jack when he passed away and then I was going to lose the house so now I’m letting him down again. And I’m letting the kids down again because I couldn’t help their dad. That’s how I felt.”


But just two weeks after sending her letter, Deborah received some unexpected news, “the mortgage company was going to do a modification.” They lowered her interest rate to two-percent and dropped her monthly payment to $480, which included taxes and insurance. “I said, ‘holy cow we got the house back.’”


Deborah credits the AHEAD program for helping her refinance and giving her the skills and confidence to begin managing the household budget. “They don’t know what they really do. They don’t realize their giving you back your life, not just helping you get your house, they give you back your dignity and your life. They make you whole again, and I never thought I’d feel like that again.”

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