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Habitat, Catholic Action Center join forces

The little house at 660 Shropshire Avenue was built for Habitat for Humanity five years ago, with all the promise that each of the program's homes brings to families finally achieving their dreams of home ownership.

But that happy beginning had a sad ending late last year, when the home was foreclosed upon.

Now, formerly homeless families are moving in, and bringing their own hopes for the future into the narrow two-story home.

"Good things can come from bad," said Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of the Catholic Action Center.

Habitat for Humanity is allowing the Catholic Action Center to use the home rent-free for six months.

The Catholic Action Center is responsible for paying for insurance and utilities during that time.

Rachel Childress, executive director of Lexington Habitat for Humanity, said the program usually offers homes like the one on Shropshire to other families waiting for a Habitat house. It gives incentives to those who are willing to accept a remodeled home instead of a newly-built one.

But when this house was foreclosed upon, all the families nearing home ownership through Habitat had already chosen lots.

"This was a good house. It was in great shape," Childress said. "We didn't want to sell it on the market, given the market."

And, she said, "leaving a house vacant is not good for the house."

So Childress said one of the organization's board members suggested offering use of the home to the Catholic Action Center.

"This is an extension of our mission," Childress said. "This is a way for us to utilize our resources out in the community."

And those resources are already being put to good use.

The Catholic Action Center took possession in December, and two married couples and a single woman are living in the home now.

They have dubbed the house The Lord's Inn, and in exchange for rent-free housing, they help the Catholic Action Center with whatever needs to be done.

James and Denise Battle said they had been renting a home on the north side of town, but "when the economy went sour about a year ago, that's when the bills started piling up," Denise Battle said. The couple lost their home in November after James Battle got laid off from his construction job.

Because there are few rooms for married couples at local shelters, Denise Battle said she ended up at the Salvation Army, and her husband ended up at the Catholic Action Center.

During the month that they were living separately, Denise Battle said, "I was always asking God to give me a place of my own.

"Faith is a big part of this whole story," she said.

That's also true for Diana and Chris Gatton, who had been living in their van for six months.

They recently spent two weeks in The Lord's Inn before moving into another house operated by the Catholic Action Center.

"I'm just glad that Ginny (Ramsey) and Habitat for Humanity have worked together," Diana Gatton said.

Childress said foreclosures among families receiving homes through Habitat are extremely rare.

The program requires families to complete 20 weeks of home ownership education before they receive a house. It also screens out 97 percent of applicants, often because of income stability or credit issues.

And she said the program works hard to avoid foreclosing on people having trouble making their mortgage payments.

"We will do everything we can if someone is in a rough spot," Childress said.

Because of confidentiality issues, Childress said she could not disclose details about the family that lost the home on Shropshire. But she said they had found other housing.

Ramsey said she's thankful Habitat decided to partner with her organization.

"It was taking a leap of faith for them to connect with us," she said. "We deal with the most marginalized."

The Catholic Action Center has use of the home for at least six months.

After that, Childress said Habitat will see if any of its next group of families wants to buy the house.

If the arrangement works well, she said Habitat may allow the Catholic Action Center to use other homes in similar situations.

In the short time they've stayed together, the Battles, Gattons and the other couple staying at The Lord's Inn have forged a strong bond.

Sitting on the sectional sofa in the home on Saturday, Denise Battle and Diana Gatton clasped hands.

"It's like we were all meant to be here together and help each other out," Diana Gatton said.

"I'm just glad I met you, Diana," Battle said. "Any one of us could've froze to death before we met each other."