Friday, May 20, 2011

Habitat for Humanity answers prayers

Bellevue family survives financial distress to keep home

Express Staff Writer

The Rinella family in Bellevue—Aby, Taitym, Colson and Jesse—found relief from Habitat for Humanity when losing their house seemed imminent. Courtesy photo

Four years ago, Aby and Jesse Rinella would not have been a family in need of help from Habitat for Humanity. Aby grew up in Hailey. She returned to her hometown to teach at Hailey Elementary School after graduation from Boise State University. Her husband, Jesse, had a construction job. The couple bought their 1,100-square-foot "starter" home in Bellevue, and prepared for the birth of their first child, Taitym. After Taitym was born, Aby switched to full-time work for Young Life, a nonprofit group that works with teens.

Aby and Jesse expected to make home improvements and sell their Bellevue house a few years later, hoping to buy a larger house and pay off student loans—that was the norm in 2007.

Two years later, the economic crisis hit. Jesse was laid off in December 2009. In early 2010, funding for Aby's job was insufficient. She didn't want to leave the organization in debt, so she, too, was out of work. By the middle of 2010, the Rinellas could no longer make house payments. In addition, the value of their home dropped more than $100,000. Even if the house sold, it would not be worth enough to pay off their debt.

"We had never missed making a payment in our lives," Aby said. "We had good credit. Our convictions are that you pay your bills. But Jesse had been out of work for more than a year, and we had gone through our savings."

The Rinellas' mortgage company agreed to accept a short sale for their home, and let Aby and Jesse remain in the house in the interim. Jesse found a job with the Blaine County Sherriff's Department, but it still wasn't enough to pay the mortgage and other bills.

Aby was pregnant with their second child, Colson.

"We are strong believers in the Lord, and we prayed and prayed," she said. "But it was very difficult."

One day, real estate agent Cindy Ward called to say some people from Habitat for Humanity had seen the house and wanted to talk. Aby and Jesse had no idea why. They were even not aware of Habitat for Humanity in the valley. They agreed to meet.

Habitat for Humanity board members were impressed with Aby's volunteer work with Young Life and Calvary Bible Church, Jesse's job in public service and Aby's previous job as a teacher.

The board suggested that Habitat for Humanity buy the house, install a much-needed new roof and new carpet in a bedroom, and sell the house back to the Rinellas at a price they could afford. The Rinellas bought their home in Bellevue this month. This was the first project completed under the recently formed Blaine County Habitat affiliate.

"Everything came together at the time in our lives that we were in the worst possible financial position," Jesse said.

John T. Flattery, chairman of the Blaine County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, said the board had been working with Ward for sites.

"Historically, Habitat for Humanity is a builder of homes," Flattery said. "With all the inventory in Blaine County, we thought maybe we should be looking at existing homes. A unique situation was presented to us—we jumped all over it. We thought it was a wonderful way to help a family in a financial disaster."

Flattery said Habitat for Humanity's goal is to offer two to three homes a year.

"It's so gratifying and satisfying to do this kind of work," he said. "I wished I had a huge stable of donors and investors and could drive up and down the streets of Hailey and Bellevue and buy houses."

Habitat for Humanity sells homes to families for no profit with a no-interest mortgage based on a family's ability to pay. Monthly payments are used to build additional homes. If the homeowner decides to sell the house, Habitat for Humanity has the option to repurchase it for the initial purchase price. The buyer will receive equity from all of the mortgage payments made prior to the sale. This also allows Habitat for Humanity to keep the home in its inventory.

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built, rehabilitated, repaired or improved more than 400,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 2 million people. It was ranked as the sixth largest homebuilder in the U.S. with 6,032 closings in 2010, according to Builder magazine's annual survey.

For details about the local affiliate, call 726-0610 or send an email to

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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