Habitat Stories

Meet Some Habitat Homeowners


  • breaking the cycle of poverty: Earl & Sajah
    breaking the cycle of poverty: Earl & Sajah

    “Park Valley, Maple Hill, Banning…” Sajah puts down each finger as she names the apartments she has lived in her whole life. “I never lived anywhere longer than a year,” she says, with a slow shake of her head. ”Every so often, I would just look around and say, ‘we need to move.’”

    Sajah and her husband Earl stand in the kitchen of their newly constructed Habitat for Humanity home. The couple and their children Elijah, 8, Quincey, 7, and Autumn, 3, have been living in their new home for the past two months, despite a few boxes yet unpacked. “If I have a chance to take a break from school and make a choice between unpacking and spending time with my family, I will always choose to spend time with my family,” Sajah says.

    Sajah’s parents were never around much growing up. She was adopted at 16, but it was hard not to have a stable home in her early years. After she and Earl met and started a family, they shared a dream to own a home and to give their children a fully structured, stable home life that neither of them had through childhood.

    It was hard for the young couple to figure out where to start. “We were trying to save up enough money for a down payment on a home, but it’s so hard to do when you’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Sajah shares. They were constantly moving a few steps forward, a few steps back. Elijah needed heart surgery, they had to replace a car, and they were left with funeral expenses after Sajah’s grandmother unexpectedly passed away. What money the couple managed to save would be gone in almost an instant as life kept throwing new struggles at them.

    Sajah and Earl realized they needed to be more intentional if they were to achieve a different outcome. They decided that Sajah needed to return to school to increase the family’s income potential, moving their family in with Sajah’s parents to lower their expenses.

    “I had an epiphany one day,” Sajah says matter-of-factly. “I was on the phone with my adopted mom and she reminded me about Habitat for Humanity. I knew immediately that was our way out.”

    The family agrees that the best part of building their new home, sponsored by Western & Southern Financia Group and SC Ministry Foundation, was doing it together. Sajah had never had a very emotionally close relationship with her brothers -— in fact, they loved her like brothers do by teasing and pushing her around. But she was overwhelmed at how involved they were during the entire build. The family could joke together, work to complete challenging projects, and feel a closer connection as they built their home. Earl and Sajah are incredibly grateful to have these memories of togetherness and family, brought to mind daily in their home.

    The family knows that this house has changed their future. With her children in school, Sajah is working towards a bachelor’s degree in accounting. This is possible with a mortgage payment that is half of what the rent payment was at their last apartment.

    “It’s like broken chains. We’re not chained to poverty anymore,” said Sajah. Their new home has opened up the possibility for Sajah to be able to graduate school and start a new career. Elijah, Quincey, and Autumn can go to school and come home at the end of the day to plenty of encouragement from their parents. Elijah and Quincey, especially, are learning the importance of responsibility in having their own home and caring for their own property. Having a sense of pride in their house, and having chores to do, has empowered the two boys in incredible ways.

    Ensuring their children go to college is incredibly important for both Sajah and Earl. “For the African-American community, its almost like people feel as if education is unattainable, and I say 'no.' I tell my boys to read, read, read, get all the learning that you can,” she says. To Sajah, education will make her family unstoppable. Their children have the opportunity to go to college and create a strong, stable path. They have the opportunity to grow up watching their parents work incredibly hard to get an education and provide for their family. Sajah admits that her life might have been different if she had gone to college right after high school. But this way, the children can see their mother working all hours of the day and night. It will be much harder for them to say, “I can’t do it.” They live in a household where both their parents work very hard and accomplish incredible feats.

    “This is a huge step towards new beginnings for our family. Since we’re not held down by poverty anymore, the sky is the limit. We now have the opportunity to reach towards whatever dreams we have.”

    October 2016

  • confidence, community, and a hopeful future: Rita, Rayder, and Heidi
    confidence, community, and a hopeful future: Rita, Rayder, and Heidi

    Sunlight fills Rita, Heidi, and Rayder’s home on Carter Court in Oxford as they smile and share stories about what led them to Habitat for Humanity, how their lives have changed, and what they think other families should know about building and buying a Habitat home.

    Like many future Habitat homebuyers, Rita’s family was living in subsidized rental housing. “The more I made, the more I had to pay.” She considered buying the house, but the landlord was reluctant to give up the subsidy, and she really couldn’t afford to make improvements. “As you live someplace longer and longer, you know all the things wrong with it.”

    Rita thought, “I’m stuck in this – I have to find a way out.”

    She was also working to improve her own career prospects. “I was working, and it came to the point where I realized that I was never going to make any more money unless I went to school. So I quit work to go to school full-time,” earning her special education license in 2010.

    She had heard about Habitat for Humanity years before, but her daughter Heidi had a friend who lived in a Habitat house. Dropping her off one day, Rita saw just what kind of house her family could buy. “It looks a lot bigger on the inside than the outside!”

    Looking more seriously into buying a Habitat home, Rita started to feel hopeful. She thought, “I can imagine having a mortgage that stays the same. We can start saving. We can start buying the things we need.”

    “When you’re stuck in the system like that, when you’re on Section 8, everything is like a balancing act. This was our way of finally being able to live a life where we felt like we were going somewhere.”

    Their application was accepted, and they chose a home site in Oxford, which meant big changes. Originally from Middletown, moving meant leaving familiar territory for a new community and new neighbors. The area was not just new to their family – Reckford Woods is a completely new subdivision started in 2010 by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati in partnership with the City of Oxford and many generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers.

    “We were coming all the way from another city – far away from our friends and family,” but Rita had seen stories of some of the other Oxford families in Habitat’s materials and said it “was like meeting your neighbors beforehand.”

    It turned out that the neighbors in Reckford Woods have built their own special community. They share babysitting, rides, and even equipment to take care of their new homes. “I’m the tool lady,” Rita laughs.

    The help starts even before families move in. Looking over photos from construction on Carter Court, Rita and her son Rayder identify another family at work. “Once we finished their house, they started helping us finish ours.”

    “Everybody knows that everybody else has put in the hard work for their home. We have that in common. If someone’s asking for help, you know they need it. And if I need help, they’re going to help me.”

    “It’s a good neighborhood and community,” echoes Rayder, who is known as “the Mayor of Carter Court.” He knows all the neighbors and made lasting friends with the Habitat construction leaders who spent so much time building houses and community here.

    Construction professionals aren’t the only ones who built hope for these families. Students from Miami University “primed and painted our house in one day.” More volunteers from their church, Spring Hill Church of Christ, provided plants and trees and hosted a housewarming party at church. Other friends helped build and volunteered at Habitat’s ReStore to help the family earn the sweat equity hours required of all homebuyers.

    The most enduring thing that has been built, however, is the family’s self-assurance. “The best part is seeing my own kids grow in confidence of their own abilities,” Rita says proudly. She has seen Heidi grow in respect and responsibility at her job. It’s helped Rayder’s confidence too, at work and in his travels around the neighborhood.

    What they learned in the homebuyer classes required for all Habitat families has also endured. “I still keep my accounting book,” Rita smiles. “It really makes you more conscious – rather than just saying ‘I think I have enough’, you make sure to account for everything.” After buying the house, she says, you learn to plan for other things, like saving for car repair or a vacation. “Instead of thinking, ‘gee I hope I get a raise,’ we think, ‘what can WE do to make this happen?’”

    They will be in their home three years this December, and so much has changed. “When I think about all the years that I had to be a renter – you’re always vulnerable. Here, it’s a lot of responsibility, but nobody can take it away from you. You wake up every day and you know you’re coming back home to the same place. It’s not something that’s been handed to you. You did it yourself, so you don’t want to lose it.”

    “We look at our future more optimistically.”

    That outlook shows in their bright, lively house. “We used to have this one little potted plant, now we have plants everywhere!” Heidi chimes in.

    They have some words of wisdom for prospective Habitat homebuyers. “For families that are not sure – it can’t possibly be any more than you’re paying in rent,” says Rita, and adds that a family may end up with more square feet and lower utilities. “Don’t be afraid to apply – you won’t regret it!” Heidi agrees, “It’s worth it.”

    Rita add some advice for young parents, “The best thing you can do for your kid right now is to try to get into Habitat and into a home so that you’re not struggling their whole life.”

    The three are grateful to the people who made it possible for them to choose this new path and grow as a family. But Rayder gets in the final word on how you can support Habitat’s mission to build homes and hope. “Sign up to help today!” he beams.

    December 2016

  • a place to call their own: Nick & Zofie
    a place to call their own: Nick & Zofie

    Color and creativity fill every room of Nick and Zofie’s Habitat house in Latonia Lakes, the first home they can truly call their own.

    It’s a house that bursts with personality and possibility. An elaborate video game character costume the dad built stands guard over the office. The daughter’s carefully arranged game figurines flank the living room TV. Tools and projects wait on a basement workbench for a spare moment.

    A few years ago, the situation was very different. Nick and Zofie were living with family in Northern Kentucky. “We really didn’t have a place to call our own, just the one room,” Nick explains. He wanted a place where he and Zofie could be more independent and he was ready for the responsibility of buying and owning a home.

    He had heard of Habitat for Humanity before, but was reminded of it by a co-worker. “Actually, I was looking for a bed and someone told me about the ReStore,” Nick says. He decided to apply and was accepted as a future Habitat homeowner in early 2014.

    Nick and Zofie were originally matched with a different home just down the road in Latonia Lakes. But before the house was complete, Nick’s sister and her family needed to move out of town. He quickly began to explore other options. “Then I got the call from Habitat.” It was good news and good timing. Another family had changed their plans, leaving a completed house in the same neighborhood all ready to move in. Nick and Zofie’s home was dedicated two days after Christmas 2014, and in just a couple more weeks they closed on the house and moved in.

    Like all Habitat homeowners, Nick put in 250 hours of work on his house or other Habitat projects before buying his home. He says the hardest thing about getting in the hours was time management, “especially for a single dad.”

    He volunteered “all over the place” on Wednesdays and Saturdays, including the home that would ultimately be his, although he didn’t know it at the time. He worked on other Habitat families’ homes, and spent a lot of time volunteering in Habitat’s warehouse, where he became known to the staff for his mechanical abilities. Watching him scroll through the spreadsheet he still keeps on his laptop, recording all his sweat equity hours, it’s clear how invested he is in his home and in Habitat.

    Habitat’s Richard Schwartz, who was the construction leader on Nick and Zofie’s house remembers how hard Nick worked, even before he knew it would be the house he would buy. “He wanted a safe place to raise his daughter, so he showed up, always ready to learn the next thing. Now he has control over his own future, which is what Habitat is all about,” Richard says.

    Like all Habitat projects, volunteer labor was key to building a new home in partnership with Nick and Zofie. For the original house they selected, 7 Hills Church in Florence held a “wall build” in the church parking lot to get the walls framed off-site. For the home he ended up buying, multiple groups volunteered, including a “Bike & Build” team, Delta Airlines, and Allstate Insurance.

    Nick also valued the classes that all Habitat families take on their journey to homeownership, including financial fitness and Gary Sullivan’s home maintenance classes. “Those topics still come up daily,” says Nick, who is working to finish out his basement, a little at a time.

    Nick, who grew up in Cincinnati, works at Amazon in Hebron, programming solutions that help with financial analysis, putting his IT degree from Northern Kentucky University to good use. After about two years at Amazon, his reputation for being a great problem-solver got him noticed and he was encouraged to apply for his current position. It’s a good job with a company whose local presence is growing.

    Zofie, a polite, funny, and inquisitive seven-year-old, attends Ft. Wright Elementary School, where she excels at math. Sounding like a future problem-solver herself, she patiently answers questions about what color combinations produce other colors and describes the rules of her favorite video game. “Can I build another website?” she asks her dad. “Do you want to see my websites?”

    Nick’s investment in his family extends beyond his house to the community where Zofie will grow up. Built in the 1930s as a summer resort community, Latonia Lakes evolved over the years into a year-round community of modest homes and close-knit neighbors, but struggles with infrastructure and a small tax base. Nick is connected to the New Hope for Latonia Lakes Neighborhood Association, a community organization advocating for community improvements. Habitat’s goal is to contribute to the long-term stability of the community, with 19 homes completed or under construction in Latonia Lakes.

    So what’s changed since Nick bought his Habitat home?

    “We don’t have to rely on others anymore,” Nick says. “And we definitely have more space.” Zofie has her own bedroom and Nick has room for his creations. “We have more responsibility for our own home. Even Zofie has her own chores.” They make their own choices and create their own routines, a privilege most of us take for granted, but which is tough when you share living space with another family.

    “Life is really different,” Nick says, watching Zofie play in a living room filled with things that represent both of their interests and hobbies. “Having our own place has changed us so much.”

    February 2017

  • building strength, stability, and self-reliance: Robin
    building strength, stability, and self-reliance: Robin

    Larona Avenue is surprisingly peaceful, given its close proximity to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Traffic noise is muted by foliage, and you can hear faint calls from zoo animals from the front porch of Robin’s Habitat house.

    There are four Habitat homes in a row on Larona, all completed in 2014, adding to many that Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati has built in Cincinnati’s Avondale neighborhood over 30 years. But Robin’s house is different from the three new builds next to it. Her house is a 98-year-old Habitat rehab that was “completely gutted” to revamp it into a brand new home that Robin purchased for her family. All four houses were landscaped by the Cincinnati Zoo, a great community partner who contributed to the houses and families in multiple ways.

    Robin is employed by LabCorp in a doctor’s office, having completed training as a phlebotomist 10 years ago. She and her three children had been living in a three-bedroom rental in Northside. Robin liked it and would have stayed but the landlord had a foreclosure. “We were forced to move out,” she remembers. They had to put a lot of their possessions in storage and double up in a two-bedroom apartment, “but we made it a home.”

    Son Aljeria or “AJ,” 19, graduated from Walnut Hills High School last year and is a freshman at UC now, studying physical therapy. He's also worked at the Zoo for three years, where he is now a team lead in food service.

    Robin’s older daughter Akira, 16, also works at the Zoo. She is a sophomore at Gamble Montessori High School, where she plays varsity basketball and volleyball, and runs track. According to her mom, she’s also a beautiful singer who was picked to participate in the World Choir Games here in 2012.

    Asia, the “baby,” is 6 now and in kindergarten at North Avondale Montessori School.

    Robin heard about Habitat years ago, but was prompted to apply for this house by a co-worker who knew her well and said “you can do this.” Like many future Habitat homeowners, she had discovered that “you never get ahead on Section 8.” Housing subsidies are reduced and the family’s share increases every time a family’s income rises, so there’s very little way to save.

    So she applied, was accepted, and started working on Habitat homebuyer classes and her sweat equity. The classes helped lay a foundation for successful homeownership. “You learn to put your needs before your wants.” She’s even stayed connected to some folks in her class.

    Robin earned her sweat equity on a variety of projects. She worked at the Bond Hill ReStore, stocking and cleaning, and helped out on the three new homes being built next to her home. Like most Habitat families, Robin had lots of help – her kids, cousins, aunt, her pastor from New Horizons Covenant Fellowship Church. She was also helped by her friend Baghwana, who is now a Habitat homeowner and called Robin “an inspiration.”

    Because it was a rehab, she worked less on her own future home, but “I loved meeting so many different kinds of people.” She’s still in touch with Bob Edgecomb, retired Habitat site superintendent, who oversaw the complex work on her house.

    “It was an Ugly Duckling,” she laughs. But she and the experienced Habitat staff saw the potential. For example, there was a Rookwood tile fireplace that she initially wanted covered up. “I don’t really like green,” she grins. Once she learned more about its history, she understood its value. “It’s kind of grown on me.” Other work exposed brickwork that's now a feature of the kitchen.

    When it was done, they couldn't wait to get in. “We got the keys the day we closed and came right to the house. It was so open and empty that Asia (then 3) could ride her scooter around. We were so excited we stayed the first night there, sleeping on pallets.” They moved their things in the next day.

    Buying a Habitat home takes a lot of work and dedication, Robin says. What did she get for her hard work? Looking around her bright dining room, with Asia playing and Akira relaxing after work, she smiles, “This is what I get to show my kids. Home is your peace, your palace. I always tell them, ‘there’s nothing like your own!’”

    It's important to Robin that they understand “things are not always going to be easy in life. But as long as you believe and don't give up on yourself, ever,” you can succeed. “The kids have seen my struggle. Now they see my strength.”

    “I cherish life – my kids, my responsibilities. I am blessed, thankful, and humbled.”

    May 2017

  • new possibilities for Ashley's family
    new possibilities for Ashley's family

    Ashley and her two young sons moved into their new home in Covington in January 2018. Through tears, she recalls “I didn’t really think homeownership was a possibility for me and my family. More than even wanting to be a homeowner, I just wanted to be able to afford my life and not be stuck in the hamster wheel of poverty.” After being turned down for a traditional mortgage, she felt no hope of ever having stability.

    Everything changed for her when a coworker told her about Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati. After learning about the requirements for becoming a Habitat homeowner Habitat, she spent 5 years with true grit cleaning up her credit score and reducing her debt. “I knew homeownership was my ticket to getting out of the cycle of poverty.”

    The moment that she found out her application was accepted through Habitat, all the fears and pressures of life felt like they had been lifted off her shoulders. Working with Habitat to get stable housing meant bigger possibilities and new opportunities for her and her children. “As a mom, I’m always thinking about the future and how I can help my kids, like helping them buy their first car or books for college.” Now, thanks to Habitat, she can afford to save money and plan for their future. Her kids even have the ability to participate in school sports and afterschool activities, which she felt not an option before becoming a homeowner.

    St. Elizabeth Healthcare was the full-house sponsor Ashley’s house, providing generous financial support and volunteers for the build. Ashley was so touched by all the volunteers that came out to help build her home. “There are no words to describe how humble and grateful I really am.” Experiencing the selfless kindness given by so many volunteers fueled her to keep moving forward and to make sure she never goes back to the situation she was in.

    She is especially thankful for Habitat’s Family Services Coordinator, Christine Carter. If it had not been for the encouragement she received from Christine, she might not be a homeowner today. Christine’s influence was absolutely pivotal in helping her decide on a good match for the location of her current home.

    Ashley’s dream for her kids in the same as any mom’s. “As a mom, you try to shield your kids from your struggles. The biggest difference my kids see in me is that I’m at ease and not stressed about the future. They are enjoying the beautiful new house and views of Cincinnati and have a basement where they can hang out and be kids, something we didn’t have the hope of having before.”

    Ashley’s advice for anyone considering submitting an application for a homeowner with Habitato become a Habitat homebuyer is, “Do it! If you never submit an application, you’ll never know if they can help.” You have to be willing to put in a lot of work and sweat equity, but the reward is worth it. “It’s not a handout. When I walk into my bathroom I see the tiles that I laid myself and know every part of the construction of my home.”


in their own words

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