Until two weeks ago, Tamika Smalls had been living in Silver Spring with her three children, so her new home in Hampstead has taken some getting used to — in the best of ways.
“The people there are very, very nice. I met the neighbors on the right side of me and they offered to cut the grass,” Smalls said. “The neighbors on the other side, they invited us over for dinner.”
Smalls had been renting in Silver Spring, trying to balance working along with raising her 3-year-old twins, Nicholas and Sarah, and 10-year-old daughter Dakota, and taking care of herself; Smalls had been Sgt. Smalls in the U.S. Army for 18 years, but medically retired to deal with her PTSD.
The Hampstead home she got the keys to on Aug. 9 is her first home, and a mortgage-free one at that, provided through the nonprofit Operation Homefront.
“Our Homes on the Homefront program prepares veterans and their families for home ownership,” said Jason Moody, senior manager of public relations for Operation Homefront. It’s a program that launched in 2012, he said, and since then,"We’ve placed over 670 families in mortgage-free homes, thanks to our partners. In this case with Tamika Smalls, you know, we want to thank JPMorgan Chase for their home award donation."
Owning a home was something that would have been out of Smalls’ reach for quite awhile otherwise, she said, and not just financially, but due to all the other life stressors involved in becoming financially ready to purchase a home.
“It was hard going to therapy one or two times a week and trying to work a job, which is pretty much impossible with small kids," she said. “This has made it possible for me to be able to take that breather financially, be able to focus on the kids more and not be stressed out about money.”
While Homes on the Homefront provides mortgage-free homes to veterans, there is an application process and some costs to the veterans involved, according to Maurjon Alston, a housing case worker in the program.
“The basic criteria are they have to have an honorable discharge, they can’t be a current homeowner, they can’t have ever been convicted of a felony,” Alston said. “And they have to have the financial ability to sustain the home.”
Operation Homefront pays taxes, closing costs, homeowners association fees if they apply and other costs upfront, Alston said, and the veteran makes a monthly payment back to the nonprofit over two years.
For Smalls, this home not only means the freedom to spend more time with her kids and to take care of herself, she also plans to go back to school and finish her law degree.
“I do want to give back and my plan is to finish law school and do a lot of pro bono work,” she said. “Chase and Operation Homefront have given me a chance to own a home and not have to worry about that part, and just be able to focus on my healing and helping others. I like paying it forward like that.”
But in the meantime, Smalls and her family are learning about their new community and enjoying their new home, the new patio area in particular.
“The kids love it,” she said. “We will have a grill out there before the weather changes.”