Senior Staff Writer
CHAPEL HILL - Helen Wray is so convinced that divine intervention led to the construction of her new home on Broadview Street that she placed her Bible in concrete as it was poured for her front porch.
"I said to my heavenly daddy, 'I need some help,' and he said, 'I've got you covered,'" Wray explained while displaying her house paid for by a program funded by Congress through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"There were so many people praying for us to get this," she said of competition in the HOME Program coordinated by Chapel Hill and its consultant, Nelson Thornton of Jackson.
The number of applicants to be helped was determined by need and available money. Wray credits her qualification to an act of God. His hand, she says, led to completion of a lesser known task in the use of federal money.
"There were 16 applicants," Town Administrator Mike Hatten said. "We looked to see how much money we would have."
Wray says prayer prompted responses from relatives to meet a deadline for construction to start. Heirs owned her home jointly in a large family. Demolition needed permission from 33 heirs in Virginia, Michigan, Rhode Island and California.
"There was a specific time when we could say it was in the good Lord's hands," Wray said.
With many applicants exceeding the need criteria, the final decision depended on chance and timing. Applicants participated in a lottery. Wray drew number three. If her paperwork wasn't completed on time, money would go to applicant No. 4.
"There was no question that she needed it," Hatten said. "It was the legality of it," he said of getting signatures.
Wray had been living in the old Emmett Harber house. Her father bought it. She had lived there since 1958.
"The house was in very poor condition," Hatten said. "The roof had blue tarp on it. The house was poorly insulated.
"We didn't want Mrs. Wray to stay another winter in the house," the city administrator said.
Because of new pipes and insulation, Wray's utilities are expected to cost less.
She moved in to her new house on Oct. 20.
Wray, 68, was born and raised in a house by railroad tracks in Chapel Hill. "My daddy worked for the L&N," she said.
Wray lives with her son, Tommy, who works at the Nichirin plant in Lewisburg. She's a member of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church.
The new house has 1,100 square feet of floor space.
"The old house had weathered the time," Wray said. "It had served its purpose. I raised my children and some grandchildren there."
Demolition on Oct. 22 was bittersweet.
"I didn't watch. They rolled in with the track hoe and people from the neighborhood came to watch like it was a movie. I drove away to the Shell and saw my friend Amy. She just embraced me and said let it all out."
Those tears are gone. She remembers joy and sadness in her old home.
"But I give it all to God for this house."