After a decade of staying with friends and siblings, Patricia Castango has a home of her own

  • Mark Winters carries in a table top into Patricia Castango’s new dining area of her new home on Flamingo Drive. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Patricia Castango smiles after cutting the ribbon of her new home on Flamingo Drive in Concord on Tuesday, June 29, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Patricia Castango is overcome with emotion after real estate agent Rachel de Thomas surprises her with gift cards she can use for her new Habitat for Humanity home on Flamingo Drive in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Patricia Castango carries in boxes into her new Habitat for Humanity home on Flamingo Drive in Concord on Tuesday.

  • Patricia Castango in front of her new Habitat for Humanity home on Flamingo Drive in Concord on Tuesday, June 29, 2022 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2022 5:29:42 PM

Walking through her bare living room, Patricia Castango pointed to the big window in her new house overlooking Flamingo Drive.

“At Christmas time, the tree is going to go right there,” she said. 

After living with friends, sisters and in a hotel for long periods at a time, Castango became the proud new owner of a home in Concord this week thanks to Habitat for Humanity. It’s the first time she’s had a place to call her own in over a decade. 

With a new board of directors, Castango’s house was the first in a revamp of the Capital Region’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate, said Mark Tierney, the president of the local chapter.

For Castango, it is a fresh start.

“It’s been a long time coming for me,” she said.

Castango’s housing troubles first began with a breakup. After splitting from her ex, her sister Melissa Castango let her stay in their home in Connecticut. Patricia had no idea this would be the first move in a series of relocations.

When Patricia moved in, Melissa’s daughter Zoe was 5 years old, excited that her aunt had come to stay. Shortly after, Zoe was diagnosed with Diffuse Glioma, a rare form of brain cancer. Doctors said she had 10 months to live.

With Melissa spending so much time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Patricia stayed behind with her other niece, Jasmine. In February of 2011, Zoe passed away at the age of seven.

“If it wasn’t for Patty, I don’t know what would have happened,” Melissa said Monday after his sister closed on her new house.

After Zoe’s death, Melissa also lost her home. Patricia moved to Loudon, to live with her other sister, Debbie.

For almost eight years, Patricia lived with Debbie’s family. That lasted until they put their home up for sale.

Since January, Patricia has stressed about where to live. With her son, now 25 years old, living on his own, it was just her. She grew more agitated at work, as a sales associate at Marshall’s. Her managers asked if she was okay. The truth was, she was on the brink of homelessness.

In March, Debbie sold her house. Again, Patricia was on her own. She piled debt onto her credit card to stay at the Best Western in Concord. After a month of charges, a friend from church offered to take her in.

That was three months ago.

Melissa wrote to Zoe praying for her sister to find a place to live.

“I write in my journal every night, ‘Zoe please let Patty get something,’ ” she said.

On Monday, that prayer was granted. Friends and family, including Debbie and Melissa, gathered in Patricia’s empty living room to celebrate the closing of her new home. Patricia cut a white ribbon around the door. A Habitat for Humanity sign hung in the front window.

“Thank you so much for picking Patty,” Melissa said, as she shook hands with Rachel de Thomas, the realtor for Habitat for Humanity. “I’m just so happy for her.”

Signing the papers on her new manufactured home on Flamingo Drive was months in the making. Patricia was selected from a slate of candidates after an application and interview process.

There are four criteria in Habitat’s selection process, explained Tierney. First, and sometimes the trickiest, is the income level of an applicant.

The target population for homeowners is someone who falls between 25-60% of the median average household income in Merrimack County. In 2020, the median household income for the county was $77,937, according to Census data.

This means someone could make as low as $20,000 a year.

Habitat wants to ensure that the costs of owning and maintaining a home is no more than 30% of an applicant’s annual income. Tierney has seen applicants who pay $1,100 a month in rent, out of their $1,600 monthly paycheck.

Yet finding applicants in the income bracket for each property is like threading a needle, Tierney said. His job is to find someone who is in need, yet can still afford the costs of the house after the closing.

“We want to be a responsible organization and not place you in the position where it is likely you are going to fail,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a hand up not a handout.”

He compared it to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Not too hard, not too soft, becomes not making too much or too little. And every property is different.

“What I want to do is select the most needy person who still qualifies,” said Tierney. “We are trying to serve the lowest income possible that can still afford the housing costs that come with the property.”

For Patricia’s neighborhood, an over-55 age requirement disqualified some applicants.

Next, a candidate must be able to pay an affordable mortgage. Habitat works with the Community Loan Fund for mortgages. This means the applicant must have some cash on hand for the closing and at least two months of housing costs to show their ability to pay.

The third criteria is what Tierney calls “sweat-equity.” This is the applicant’s commitment to help Habitat in the future. And he will find anyone a job.

“You can write a check, bring a tool belt or make cookies to bring in for workers on the next renovation job,” he said.

Last, Habitat does a home visit to see the current environment an applicant is living in. The purpose of the home visit is to ensure applicants come from a safe living space, and will maintain the same in their new home. They look to see if there are enough bedrooms per person? Exposed wires or leaking roofs? A working toilet?

The selection process, coupled with paperwork, was a four-month period for Patricia. But on Monday, she sat in the garage-turned-office and officially signed the documents putting the house in her name.

“I’ve just signed my life away,” she joked.

Piece by piece she’ll move in. Her niece is helping her repaint the walls. Melissa wants to throw her a moving-in party. She wants to buy a couch that pulls out so her sisters can stay over. She’s finally able to host them in her own place, after years of sleeping at theirs.

But has she walked through the empty kitchen, planning out what will go where in her cabinets and drawers, a simple phrase on a grocery bag on her counter set a mantra for Patricia’s new start:

“Life is sweet.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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