Greeter welcomes his new home

April 05, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - Handed a pair of oversized scissors for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting during the dedication of his new Berkeley County home, an enthusiastic Richard Merryman didn't hesitate to cut the gold-colored ribbon in two and the visitors on hand to help him celebrate didn't mind much that their cameras had missed it.

It was a ribbon-cutting a long time in the making, they all agreed.

"There wasn't anything that didn't go wrong for us I don't think, said Merryman's mother, Faith, of her son's dream of home ownership.

On Tuesday, Merryman was joined by family members as well as representatives from a number of government housing agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's West Virginia Rural Development office and the state's Housing Development Fund, who welcomed him into the home especially designed for him, an 1,100-square-foot cottage atop a bluff not far from the Potomac River.

Merryman, who works full-time as a greeter at Wal-Mart in Martinsburg, W.Va., is the first recipient in the Eastern Panhandle of a blended loan program utilizing $70,000 in funding from Rural Development and a $17,000 Housing Development Fund contribution at 0 percent interest with a portion of it forgivable each year that Merryman remains in the house until 10 years.


The day became an opportunity for officials from both agencies to observe the fruits of efforts that unfolded over two years.

As many as 43 such projects were undertaken through the two-year old program in 2005, said Rural Housing Program Director Dianne Crysler.

But the program is becoming harder to propose for the Eastern Panhandle where land values are far outstripping what funding can be secured for individual projects, said acting Rural Development Manager Howard Page,

"The biggest problem is affordability," Page said. "Affordability is going away in the Eastern Panhandle."

It wasn't just affordability issues that Merryman had to contend with, though. Several snags along the way almost put Merryman's dream of home ownership out of reach.

Delays in obtaining building permits from the county planning commission held up the project, as did an effort to track down the original owners of the small once-wooded lot the family purchased to build the house on. Water and sewer permits had to be renewed as a result of the holdups, the land needed to be resurveyed following confusion with the lot itself, and for several weeks the custom-built manufactured home sat in two parts off the property in front of neighbors' houses.

"It looked like he was never going to get in," said Page, who credited Faith for her persistence.

"I know far more about construction and permits and the running of government than I ever need to know," said Faith, who, with her husband Scott, adopted Merryman when he was 5 along with his two sisters. "We had roadblocks, but we started calling them speedbumps."

The couple live in a house two doors down from Merryman.

The original three-bedroom floorplan is especially constructed for Merryman, who walks with the aid of a walker as a result of cerebral palsy, and for his 22-year-old sister Megan, who is developmentally disabled, and will someday reside with him.

Handicap accessible details for the house, which was built by Pennsylvania-based Deluxe Building Systems, include a flat ramp that leads to the house, as well as specially-designed bathrooms, and plastic edging on the corners of walls.

Merryman's walker can be tough on the walls, Faith said, smiling.

Page said Merryman will realize savings as a result of his participation in the program, and his house payments will be less than what he was paying when he rented an apartment in Marlowe, W.Va.

For Merryman, home ownership meant even more than saving money.

"I just wanted to be closer to mom and dad," he said.

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