On Thursday, March 11, I broke from my normal routine to leave at 5:15 and head home. I walked upstairs into a meeting room where eight families sat surrounded by my new co-workers. All of them were being told that they were embarking on a new lifestyle called homeownership.
In the middle of a speech by HFH GLA President Erin G. Rank, a woman named Lety and her two daughters walked in, unaware of what the rest of the group had been told. The three of them sat down quietly in a corner of the room. I looked around for what was supposed to happen next. All of my new Habitat peers were still smiling. Should I remove the cheer from my face that started when Erin told previous "good news" to the families that were already there? Or was it supposed to be a surprise again? I decided that I'd look down at the carpet.
Erin took a moment to welcome Lety and told her the news: a home was being built for Lety and her daughters in their hometown of Lynwood, CA. All they had to do is promise to pay the mortgage and help build the house.
In this moment, though, Lety and the girls live with her parents in a two-bedroom apartment that is breaking down from the inside out. It's the same with the other eight applicants of this "Partner Family" program; one lives in a gang-heavy neighborhood; another is overcrowded in a bedroom that they rent for high rent; another has leaky roofs, bad plumbing and broken flooring. These are good, deserving, hard-working people, but this program doesn't just give away houses to the needy. It allows low-income families the opportunity to own a home, pay a mortgage, and even build their own house. A few hundred Lynwood area/Imperial Highway families initially showed interest in the housing program, but only nine made it out of the pile in hopes to better their lives, financially and spiritually.
The tears kept coming for Lety, who said "I feel like if I want to get something, I want to earn it." She couldn't even finish her statement, tapping one of her kids to finish it for her.
"[In the car] she was saying 'I want something that God is giving to me,' and I told her if God wants you to have it, then that's how it's going to be," her daughter said.
I can't make this stuff up, folks.
These partner families, now soon-to-be homeowners are directly involved in the construction of their homes. Each family has to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity," or physical labor, on their new Habitat home or on someone else's new Habitat home. The overall pay-out? Zero-interest mortgages (each family pays no more than 35% of their monthly income), improved credit and financial stability, and a long-term roof over their heads that they can call their own. I walked back to my desk and thought about my own life, and how fortunate I have become in over 23 years on earth. Everything that I ever worked for as a student, business journalist, African-American and Christian was about to change.
On March 11, I was four days into my internship here in Gardena and five minutes away from tears of humility myself. And to think, I thought I was troubled in my inability to pay one of my bills last month because I didn't have a job! Witnessing this brought me down a few notches.
Hello, my name is Christina, and I'm one of three Spring 2010 volunteer interns at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.
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Labels: affordable housing, good news caravan, Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles, homeownership, low income families, partner families