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Five female vets get reprieve on home foreclosure

Jan. 15, 2014 - 12:49PM   |  
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A home in Alexandria, Va., occupied by five homeless female veterans and their two children got a last-minute reprieve from foreclosure, thanks to donations from the public and from the trust of a former assistant secretary of the Air Force.

One woman living in the home is a reservist who is on her way to Afghanistan, said Jas Boothe, founder of Final Salute, a nonprofit organization that provides services and transitional housing to female veterans.

Boothe learned by chance in December that the Alexandria home Final Salute was renting as transitional housing was being foreclosed on by the owner, RPJ Housing.

Concerned about the future of the women and their children, Boothe went to the public auction and bid on the property. Her hopes of paying $150,000 for the property were crushed when she got into a bidding war with another bidder, and she wound up paying $455,000.

She was faced with having to raise at least half of that amount by Jan. 15 in order to get an affordable mortgage and allow the women to stay in the home.

Members of the public donated $55,000, and with about a week left before her deadline, she got word of a “substantial” donation from the Karen Ruth Keesling Trust, Boothe said.

“These women will have a place to rest for them and their children. ... It shows the true patriotism of the American people, those who are willing to go beyond the handshake and ‘Thank you for your service.’ ”

Karen Ruth Keesling, who died in 2012 at 65, was assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs from 1988 to 1989, after holding a number of other civilian positions in the Air Force.

Final Salute will have a mortgage, “but the home will be our asset,” Boothe said.

The charity operates two other homes, one in West Virginia, and another in Ohio. In September, judges for Newman’s Own Awards chose her charity as the top award winner, and she received $25,000 during a Pentagon ceremony.

Boothe said she was disturbed that no one from RPJ Housing contacted her about the foreclosure. “We were paying the $3,000 a month in rent. They were cashing the checks and not telling us that they weren’t paying the mortgage,” she said.

Dino Panagopoulos, an attorney for RPJ Housing, a nonprofit organization that provides housing for the needy and for those with special needs, said RPJ had hoped someone in the affordable housing arena would purchase the house and move forward with the current tenants with as little disruption as possible.

He said he had been in touch with the chairman of the board of Final Salute about the situation, and that at least one Final Salute board member was aware of RPJ’s financial situation because in his previous job at RPJ, he had negotiated the lease with Final Salute.

The rent for the Final Salute house was nowhere near what RPJ Housing needed to pay for its previous mortgage of the property, and that shortfall was instrumental in causing not only the foreclosure of that property but several others in RPJ’s portfolio, Panagopoulos said.

Several years ago, RPJ’s finances suffered a crushing blow when Fairfax County, Va., officials barred it from doing business with the county, after a former director allegedly submitted false information to the county. So RPJ could no longer receive grants and other assistance to support its low-income housing.

Panagopoulos said there were no allegations of wrongdoing, “but it was a misguided effort to create housing for people in need.”

He said RPJ is in a “wind-down mode,” with very few properties left.

“It’s unfortunate to make an issue when a fellow nonprofit fell on hard times, tried to make it work, and couldn’t pull it off,” he said.

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