Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The two-story stucco house with the blue-painted garage doors was indistinguishable from the other homes lining the street in its North Las Vegas neighborhood, except for an American flag hanging out front.
On Wednesday morning, Ignacio Cruz, an Army veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, walked up the driveway toward the front door with his wife and two of his children and reached out his arm to ring the doorbell.
It was the first and, possibly, last time Cruz will ever have to ring the doorbell. Now, he has a key.
On the other side, Amanda Shaunessy, a housing case worker with Operation Homefront, was waiting to turn the house over to Cruz and his family through a new program run by the nonprofit organization, which provides mortgage-free homes to military veterans.
Cruz, a native of Guam, was granted a medical retirement from the Army this year and moved with his wife and children to Las Vegas to be closer to family.
Because money was tight, they moved in with Cruz’s wife’s family, a living situation Cruz described as “crowded.”
The family won’t have to worry about being cramped in the new home, which includes four bedrooms, three baths and a pool out back.
As the family stepped into their home Wednesday morning, Cruz and his wife marveled at the large common areas and spacious living rooms, tearing up at moments in between utterances of, “Wow.”
“I’ve got goose bumps,” Cruz said. “I’m at a loss for words.”
The house was provided to the Cruz family through Homes on the Homefront, a program run by Operation Homefront in partnership with several national banks.
Houses in the program have been taken by banks through foreclosure. Participating banks work with Operation Homefront to provide homes that meet certain criteria — including proximity to schools and the Veterans Affairs medical centers — to veterans in need.
The Cruz family will make small rent payments of a few hundred dollars each month to cover property tax and insurance costs while undergoing financial counseling with Operation Homefront. If the family completes the counseling program and shows it is in good financial standing, it will be given the deed to the home, mortgage free, in two years.
The national program has put 50 veterans in homes so far, including two other families in the Las Vegas Valley, and officials said the goal was eventually to provide 1,000 homes.
Cruz, who is battling post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered numerous physical injuries during his nine and a half years of service, said having the home lifted a burden off his shoulders.
He said he’s glad his children would have a place to call home in which to grow up.
“It’s a true blessing,” Cruz said. “This will let us be able to grow our family and think about things other than financial worries.”
Without having to focus solely on working to provide shelter for his family, Cruz, 28, said he planned to go to college to study business management. His wife, Amanda, is also planning to pursue an advanced education, Cruz said.