U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Boggs was all smiles as he entered the first house he's ever owned.
"It's amazing," Boggs said, moments after touring his beige-colored house, adorned with red, white and blue balloons in the Villas at Greenwood Lakes in East Naples.
Boggs, 37, who had been renting all his life, received a mortgage-free, 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house from JPMorgan Chase & Co. in partnership with Building Homes for Heroes, one of Chase's nonprofit partners.
"For the rest of my life, I'm going to have a roof over my head," said Boggs, who was serving in the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, of the U.S. Army in Iraq when his Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device, IED, in fall 2003. He suffered a brain injury and has nerve damage to his left arm and hand. He lost his left eye.
Boggs is among more than 400 disabled veterans who so far have received a banked-owned house from Chase and its nonprofit organization partners. Chase is among the lending institutions with programs to aid veterans.
In Boggs' case, Building Homes for Heroes, a national, nonprofit headquartered in New York, assisted with his house. This year, Building Homes for Heroes hopes to give 30 to 40 homes to veterans.
Chase staff and Building Homes for Heroes representatives recently welcomed Boggs and his fiance to their house with a cake, wraps and cheer. Boggs' fiance, April Arguin, 30, was amazed by the generosity, which included movers.She said not having to worry about a mortgage payment each month will take a huge concern out of their lives and will really help Boggs' stress and anxiety.
"To know that every month we are going to be OK will allow him to sleep better, live better and live," she said.
The couple, the first in Collier to receive a free home through the program, previously lived in Rockledge on Florida's central Atlantic Coast.
Chase spokeswoman Maribel Ferrer said Chase, along with its nonprofit partners, are committed to awarding 1,000 mortgage-free homes in the U.S. to deserving veterans and their families by 2016.
Since 2010, Chase and its partner nonprofits have provided more than 400 bank-owned homes across the U.S., including 89 in Florida.
In addition to Building Homes for Heroes, Chase works with nonprofits Operation Homefront, Military Warriors Support Foundation, Homes for Our Troops and Dallas Neighborhood Homes.
Chase donates the house, while the nonprofit organizations are responsible for the selection process and house repairs. The nonprofit gives the deed to the veteran, Ferrer said. In addition, Chase and its nonprofit partners provide ongoing financial education to the veterans.
In early 2011, Chase developed specific programs to address the issues facing service members, veterans and members of their families.
"We recognize the tremendous sacrifice they've made for our country and want to ensure that they successfully transition to civilian life," Ferrer said.
Chase established its Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, which became responsible for developing and executing a strategy for supporting America's military and veteran communities.
Chase offers veterans and military service members options to purchase or refinance homes. Chase also has a dedicated team of mortgage specialists trained in all aspects of the service members' Civil Relief Act, including explanation of benefits, customer eligibility, documentation requirements and fee waivers.
Ferrer said Chase provides one-on-one assistance to struggling homeowners through nine Chase Homeownership Centers in cities near large military bases, including Jacksonville.
Mortgage savings and benefits for veterans include savings on closing costs and VA loans that may offer no down payment and no monthly mortgage insurance, according to Chase's website.
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Fifth Third Bank is another bank specializing in veteran lending.
Although Fifth Third doesn't offer mortgage-free homes like Chase, the bank features benefits for Veterans Affairs, VA, mortgage lending and refinancing benefits.
Ed Erickson, Fifth Third vice president and area mortgage manager for Southwest Florida, said a VA mortgage offers eligible veterans many options to both purchase and refinance.
"It's a great program for both returning veterans and existing veterans," Erickson said.
Veterans who already have a VA loan can refinance up to 95 percent of the appraised value, depending on the lender's guidelines, and take advantage of the loan interest rates. Veterans may refinance without a new appraisal or the normal documentation required for income and assets.
Moreover, a veteran whether active duty or retired can choose to finance their purchase up to 100 percent of the purchase price.
"We want to first and foremost thank the veterans for their services," Erickson said. "We are going to offer veterans the best possible interest rate in the market."
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Today, Boggs says he is blessed and thankful for Chase and Building Homes for Heroes.
"It's the American dream," Boggs said. "To get it this way, is an amazing feeling."