15 millionth mortgage Veteran: William H. Black of Kent Island is the 15 millionth borrower to get a VA mortgage since the GI Bill became law 52 years ago.

September 18, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

At William H. Black's new rancher on Kent Island, the little things matter most. Light switches within easy reach. Space under the kitchen sink to maneuver a wheelchair. An extra-wide hallway. A door from bedroom to deck.

But best of all is the specially designed master bath.

"This is the most important room to me in the house -- with a shower I can roll right into," said Black, 49, a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago. "I feel good about having my own place."

For someone who spent much of his Army career living in barracks, the house built for easy wheelchair access is the first he can call his own. For the Department of Veterans Affairs, Black's home represents another milestone. Black is the nation's 15 millionth borrower to get a VA mortgage since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law 52 years ago.

Since then, the VA home loan program has helped make home owners of returning service members, veterans and their families by guaranteeing more than a half-trillion dollars' worth of financing. Over the life of the program, veterans from Maryland accounted for 420,342 of the 15 million borrowers.

VA loans, made by private lenders and backed by the government, require no down payment and little cash for settlement.

Tomorrow at the new home just down the street from where Black was born and raised, VA officials and lenders will commemorate the loan program's milestone with a special ceremony honoring Black, who used to sweep for mines while serving the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967.

R. Keith Pedigo, chief of the loan program for the VA, said that "from the veteran's standpoint," the program means a chance "to buy a home without having to make a down payment and with little out-of-pocket expense."

During the past fiscal year, VA backed 263,000 home loans worth more than $25 million. In a region including all of Maryland except Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the VA guarantees 2,000 to 2,200 loans on average in a three-month period, said John Smith, director of the Baltimore regional office for the VA.

About 40 percent of the 3.3 million active loans went to Vietnam veterans, while about a quarter went to veterans of the post-Vietnam era. Aging World War II veterans now account for about 4 percent of all VA borrowers.

Black had been living in Germany, where he was last stationed during his 21-year military career, when he and his German-born wife started planning to build their retirement home down the street from Black's parents' in Chester. Black had retired from the military in 1987.

Using a $133,000 VA loan in combination with a $38,000 specially adapted housing grant, also from the VA, the Blacks had their modular rancher manufactured by Shawnee Homes and set into place and customized by RWL Builders and Developers, of Ridgely.

Black moved in in early August and is waiting for his wife and their 6-year-old daughter to join him from Germany.

"She hasn't seen the house, but I've taken pictures," said Black. "I'm not much when it comes to decorating and knowing how to pick out furniture, but I don't think I did too bad."

He did as well as possible on the financing, said Theodore E. "Chip" Reichhart Jr., president of MNC Mortgage Corp.

VA loans account for about 10 percent of MNC's loan volume, a percentage that rises in areas such as Harford and Anne Arundel counties because of Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"Nothing out there competes with it on a cash required basis," said Reichhart, whose financed Black's loan. "You can get in with very little cash."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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