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TDCJ officer finds home sweet home through financing program

After years of renting, Debra Holbrook now has her own place to call home thanks to a financing program available to TDCJ employees working in hazardous duty positions.
Holbrook standing in driveway near her mailbox
One of the first things Coffield Unit CO III Debra Holbrook did after buying her first home through the Homes for Heroes Program was to put up a mailbox.
Photo by David Nunnelee

“It’s mine, it’s mine,” Holbrook, a correctional officer at the Coffield Unit near Palestine, said over and over again about the three-bedroom home she recently bought through the Homes for Heroes Program administered by the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC).

“But there’s no way I could have done it by myself.”

Holbrook is one of a number of TDCJ employees who have purchased a home through the program that provides first-time buyers with a five percent down payment grant and allows them to choose among approved lenders to finance a 30-year mortgage at below-market interest rates. Previously available only to firefighters and law enforcement officers, the Texas Legislature, in 2005, extended the program to full-time TDCJ employees who earn hazardous duty pay. Each year, $25 million in bonding authority is made available to award on a first-come, first-serve basis to eligible first-time homebuyers throughout the state looking to purchase a new or existing home.

More than 350 families have already been served through the program, with approximately 33 percent of the loans going to TDCJ employees, said TSAHC Single Family Programs Manager Paige McGilloway. That’s put about 120 agency employees into homes.

Holbrook, a single mother of two teenagers, had been shopping for home financing for some time before learning of the Home for Heroes Program during a shift turnout meeting late last summer.

“I knew there were other programs out there through which I could get a grant to help with my down payment,” she said. “But I had started to give up looking because I had been trying to weed through paperwork for a good six to eight months and I was really getting frustrated trying to figure out where I needed to start. So when they said at shift meeting that we had been added to this program, it was like, ‘click.’”

In addition to being first-time homebuyers – which the program defines as an individual or family that has not owned or had an ownership interest in any residence during the last three years – applicants must reside in Texas and meet the income and home purchase price limits set by the program. They must also meet standard mortgage underwriting requirements demonstrating credit worthiness and occupy the purchased home as their primary residence. To apply, individuals must directly contact a participating lender to complete the application process.

Holbrook found a lender in Arlington who quickly approved her for a conventional loan at an interest rate that has her paying little more than what she had been spending each month to rent a two-bedroom duplex. Her grant was applied toward her down payment and closing costs, and within six months of applying for the loan, she was the proud owner of a home just minutes away from the Coffield Unit. Her out-of-pocket move-in costs were less than $1,000.

“Once I turned in the papers, the biggest deal was me finding a house,” she said. “And I took forever to find a house. I took longer than the lender did to approve me.”

Holbrook looked at several houses before finally settling on one she had actually rented for more than a year. A former owner of the property had once offered to sell it to her for $35,000, but she would have had to come up with $5,000 for a new septic system. She didn’t have that amount to spare. But when new owners came in and replaced the septic system and made other improvements, with the intention of selling the house, Holbrook started to think about buying the former rental.

“I was tired of paying someone else’s mortgage,” she said. “I wanted a place of my own.”

But it was the five percent down payment grant paid at closing by her mortgage lender that actually enabled Holbrook to buy the home where her children now enjoy their own bedroom.

“Without the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said. “There was no way.”

One of the first things Holbrook did after moving in this past March was put up a mailbox with the help of neighbors.

“Don’t ask me why, but that was one of the first things I thought about when I moved in,” she said. “I needed a mailbox with my name on it.”

Holbrook, a Texas City native who had lived in rental properties all her adult life, went to work for TDCJ three years ago after completing the training academy at the College of the Mainland. She said she is convinced that she would not have become a homeowner this year had she not been employed by the agency in a position that makes her eligible for the housing program.

“I’d probably still be living in an apartment or some little rent house,” she said. “I can pretty much guarantee it.”
Since moving in, Holbrook has talked up the program to a number of co-workers who might also be eligible to participate.

“I think they need to know that it’s out there,” she said. “And I’ve been telling everybody because it feels really good to have a place to call home.”


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illustration of woman holding a big payday check

Second of back-to-back pay raises effective September 1

The second pay raise for TDCJ employees in two years took effect September 1.

Lawmakers in 2005 approved legislation granting full-time state employees a 7 percent salary increase to be spread over two years. The pay raises were the first back-to-back salary increases approved for state workers in 14 years and the largest percentage increase in 17 years. Legislators also increased hazardous duty pay for security employees and longevity pay for non-correctional workers.

In September 2005, state employees received a 4 percent salary increase or a minimum of $100 a month. Employees received a 3 percent hike or at least $50 more a month this past September.

With September’s raise, the annual salary for starting correctional officers climbed from $23,972 to $24,691. An officer with at least eight years of experience now earns $33,279 annually,up from $32,310. An entry-level clerk now earns at least an additional $600 annually with the raise.


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