Oscar Agyngi used to put together the budget for the minister of public health in Cameroon. The 57-year-old recognizes a good deal when he sees one, he says.
So as he stood yesterday afternoon outside the renovated city home he is buying with a no-interest loan, he said he felt as if his fifth Christmas in America had arrived early.
"I know this is a good deal," Agyngi said. "To have a house here in America is a great gift."
Volunteers for the nonprofit Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity worked 18 months rehabilitating the three-story home, transforming it from an abandoned drug den into the newest family home in the 900 block of Montpelier St. in Better Waverly.
In 22 years, the local Habitat affiliate has rehabilitated or built 89 houses in North and Northeast Baltimore for applicant families who meet three key requirements: falling within a specified income range (a family of eight, for example, must make between $22,208 and $44,417); displaying a condition of need; and pledging to volunteer 300 hours for the organization.
In a ceremony yesterday, the organization handed Agyngi, his wife and three of his sons the keys that will allow them to open the white front door displaying a Christmas wreath.
Elizabeth Agyngi, 47, hugged everyone who bid her hello. Both she and her husband wore their Sunday finest. After delivering a thank-you speech from the front porch of their soon-to-be home, husband and wife sang a hymn of praise, honor and thanks to Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat will officially sell the house to the Agyngis next week for $68,000, the home's appraised value, said executive director Mike Mitchell.
Oscar Agyngi said he brought his family to the United States for opportunities, such as a better education. The former health official and assistant mayor of Mbengwi won a visa lottery in his native Cameroon five years ago, allowing his wife, three of his five children and himself to immigrate to the United States, he said.
The family arrived in Baltimore in 2000. Oscar Agyngi works as a counselor at the state Department of Juvenile Services facility on Gay Street, and Elizabeth Agyngi is a nursing assistant, he said.
The children who live with them are Isaac, 25, who recently started work in nursing; Jean Claude, 21, a student at Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus, who wants to be a biomedical engineer; and Benard, 16, a senior at Dunbar High School who wants to pursue a career in medicine.
The four-bedroom, one-bath home will replace the Agyngi's two-bedroom apartment and offers the prospect of a garden.
"My wife loves flowers," Oscar Agyngi said, "all kinds of flowers."
The Northeast Baltimore house, more than 80 years old, has a painted red brick facade; a family room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor; and two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. The top floor features two bedrooms -- including one that looks out on downtown Baltimore. That will be Oscar and Elizabeth Agyngi's room.
"I want to be on top so I can know what is going on below," he said.
Though the couple won't have purchased the house yet, he said his family will visit it on Christmas Day.
"We'll drink some wine," Oscar Agyngi said. "We'll just stand around, drink some wine and rejoice. We'll take some pictures."
After moving in, he plans to watch the city's New Year's Eve fireworks from his bedroom.
"When you stand there, you see the city," he said. "Baltimore is a very great city."