BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - On LaTania Tate's front door hangs a sign reminding, "Family and friends gather here."
"I love my home, I worked hard for this house," Tate said.
And it wasn't only Tate's hard work hard that paid for it, but also the efforts of her church, friends, family and volunteers too. She said the house was made possible through a non-profit aimed at helping first time home buyers, which gets the buyers involved in the construction process. That was 9 years ago, she said.
"I never thought I would be able to have a home," the preschool teacher said.
But, the dream of home ownership was nearly interrupted last year when Tate's daughter called with a problem – her financial aid for college tuition fell short about $2,600.
"So I said well, her schooling is more important than what I have to do," she said. "That's pretty much how things get behind when you're trying to work from paycheck to paycheck in my case as a single parent."
Tate explained she fell 6 months behind on her mortgage. As late notices and bills mounted, she confided in her neighbor about fears of losing the home she loved.
And that's when her situation turned around with a simple question from her neighbor: "She said, 'Have you ever heard of Alabama Hardest Hit?' And I said, 'No, I've never heard of them. What's that?,'" recalled Tate.
"The whole idea behind the program was to eliminate foreclosures," said Mike King, Single Family Administrator with the Alabama Housing Finance Authority.
The U.S. Treasury started the in program in 2009, giving a total of $9.6 billion to 19 states most affected by unemployment and declining property values. Alabama received $162.5 million.
To date, less than a third has been spent helping more than 5,800 homeowners, including Tate. She was approved for up to $30,000.
"I think overall Alabama has fared well, which means we haven't been able to use as much of this money as originally thought," King said.
According to statistics from the Alabama Department of Labor, the state's unemployment rate has remained higher than the national average, but also has declined over the past 7 years.
Along with declining unemployment, property values have steadily rebounded from the foreclosure crisis. According to Zillow, the average price per square foot of a home in May was $96, which was the same price it was in 2010.
"The bulk of the program is centered on the unemployment and underemployment program," explained King. People who qualify can receive up to $30,000 in payments for up to a year.
To be approved, applicants must owe less than $258,000 on their mortgage and have less than $77,700 in total household income.
The application is online and available at http://www.hardesthitalabama.com/.
"A lot of people may get upset – they asking for too much, trying to get in my business. But I didn't see it that way. I really didn't care, I didn't have nothing to hide, I needed help," said Tate.
"And once I learned I was approved, I went over next door and gave my neighbor a kiss. For her to tell me, Alabama Hardest Hit, and also having faith, and my pastor always says, there's a ram in the bush. And she was my ram."