Santa was really good to one Genesee County family this year. Thanks to the Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, single mother, Whitney, and her five-year-old daughter, Olivia, will move into a new home – just in time for Christmas.
Born and raised in Flint, Whitney works very hard at National Pawnbrokers of Flint to provide for her daughter, who has some health issues, including asthma. The two have lived in various apartments over the last several years, which has been troublesome. “Olivia’s asthma is pretty bad,” says Whitney, adding that exposure to secondhand smoke and mold, which can trigger asthma attacks, is hard to avoid when living in an apartment complex.
A friend of Whitney’s told her about Habitat for Humanity’s Home Ownership Program. As a single mom, it’s difficult to save money to buy a home, so Whitney thought she would see if she was eligible to apply for it.
Applicants to the program must meet several requirements, according to Juan Zuniga, Habitat’s Homeowner Services Director. “There’s a myth out there that we give away homes, but that just isn’t the case,” Juan explains. The applicant must be employed, have good credit, and is required to put in 250 sweat-equity hours. And, they do not get a home for free; they must have the ability to work and pay an interest-free mortgage on the home.
A committee reviews the applicant’s work history and credit, and then makes a determination of need. Their determination goes to Habitat’s Board of Directors for approval. In May 2015, Whitney was approved for the Home Ownership Program and finally received the call she had been waiting for. “I’ve got good news for you,” Juan told her on the phone. “You’ve been approved for the program!”
Once approved, there are many hoops to jump through, according to the director, and there are several required training classes to complete. Whitney attended classes on how to save money and pay bills, how to winterize a home, what tools to keep on hand, and how to do small repairs. She has also completed her sweat-equity hours. “I worked quite a few fundraising events and volunteered at four Habitat homes,” Whitney reports. “I also helped build the shed at my home.” All of her hard work has now paid off.
The three-bedroom, two-bathroom new-build is located out in the country in Mt. Morris. “It has huge front and back yards!” Whitney exclaims. “Typically, our homes are not built on a parcel of property that large,” Juan adds. Habitat for Humanity works with various contractors who usually offer a reduced rate and the subcontractors and laborers are all from Genesee County. “We put over $1 million back into the Genesee County economy,” says Juan.
And as they get closer to the move-in date, the excitement continues to build. The goal is to move in before Christmas, so they can spend the holidays there. “We go see the house at least once a week,” Whitney says. “It’s still hard for me to grasp that it is really happening. I feel like it’s a dream!”
Olivia already has big plans for her new home, like having a trampoline and a swing set in the backyard. “She wants to make the basement into a movie theatre,” Whitney says with a laugh. They can’t wait for the holidays to get here. “We are so thankful; it’s a big deal to have your own house,” she shares. “It’s a Christmas gift for sure. Every night when we say our prayers, Olivia always says, ‘Thank you for our house.’” Whitney is also very thankful to Habitat for Humanity, all of the workers, volunteers and partners who all helped to make their dream come true. “I’m fortunate to be blessed with the gift of home ownership,” she says. “I will always be there to help out – and to give back – for what they have given me.”
ABOUT GENESEE COUNTY HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that partners with future and current homeowners to build or renovate homes for low-income families. Founded in 1990, Genesee County Habitat for Humanity is one of nearly 1,400 U.S. affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International. Genesee County Habitat for Humanity has built or renovated over 152 homes throughout Genesee County.
It is made up of people who volunteer their time and work to provide decent, affordable homes for persons who could not otherwise afford to buy one. Habitat for Humanity is financed through donations of money and materials and houses are sold at no profit, and purchased interest-free, typically over a 20-year-period. For more information, visit GeneseeHabitat.org.
Photography by Eric Dutro