While many enjoyed time at home with family and friends this holiday season, for many others, affordable homeownership has remained little more than a dream.
That dream came true, however, for 19 families in St. Tammany in 2017, thanks to Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West and East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity.
The local organizations brought together thousands of hours of volunteer labor, homeowner sweat equity and community support to complete the homes. Their New Year's resolution for 2018 is to do it again.
They will be joined by a new partner in their goal to provide decent, affordable housing — the very first high school group in Louisiana to charter with the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity International.
Northshore High School Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter formed this school year and has more than 45 members and its own board and officers.
Kentrell Jones, assistant executive director for East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity, says it's the first high school affiliate in the state.
Jones calls Habitat “a work of faith,” and that’s how the new chapter came about. Habitat was contacted by the students at Northshore who wanted to form a chapter the same week that Allison Higgins walked in the door to volunteer.
Higgins had helped form Louisiana’s first college campus Habitat chapter in Lafayette, and she soon volunteered to help the students at the Slidell school. Already, they have been active with projects in the community and participated in Habitat East’s annual fundraising event, Home is Where the Art Is.
“We are so excited about what these young leaders are going to do in the community,” Jones said.
East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity closed on three homes this year, and three more homeowners are “in the pipeline to close in 2018,” Jones said.
The affiliate builds homes in Slidell, Lacombe, Pearl River and Alton. It was chartered 25 years ago, and has built 138 homes that have helped 450 adults and parents with children.
In addition to an active Women Build program — with an enthusiastic group of volunteers that call themselves Rosies — the affiliate also has a Veterans Build program. Two veterans are working their sweat equity hours to buy Habitat homes in 2018, including a Habitat home "that has come back into Habitat stock” and is being renovated.
The emphasis on veterans is supported by the annual Louisiana Veteran’s Festival. This year’s daylong fest will be held May 19, and will move to Heritage Park in Slidell.
Jones, an Army veteran, said the festival “raises money for a good cause, and it’s an awesome event. By the end of 2018, we will have been able to help four veterans become homeowners.”
East St. Tammany Habitat plans to partner with Habitat for Humanity International’s neighborhood revitalization program. Jones said that as they build new homes in the community, they often learn that other homeowners in the neighborhood cannot afford needed repairs to maintain their homes.
“We’re excited to be able to help homeowners that need a hand up,” she said, including the elderly, disabled and low-income families.
“This is new for our affiliate,” she said.
As plans develop, orientation meetings will be held for those who would like to apply.
The organization also operates a Habitat ReStore at 747 Old Spanish Trail in Slidell. It resells donated building materials such as flooring, lighting fixtures, cabinets and vanities, trim, architectural salvage, doors and windows, as well as furniture and other household items. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
For information, visit www.esthfh.org or call (985) 639-0656.
Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West helped 16 families become homeowners last year. The affiliate was chartered 36 years ago and has built a total of 256 homes.
Its director, Lira Casborné, said five homes are under construction in Mandeville and Covington. These include Women Build homes and a Faith Build home.
“We currently have 16 homebuyers in the Homeownership Program working on their sweat equity hours,” Casborné said. “We are looking for land for future projects.”
Casborné said an upcoming home dedication ceremony is a perfect time for supporters, volunteers and the public to see firsthand what Habitat is all about. The dedication is planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at 70303 Ninth St. in Covington.
Each newly completed home is celebrated with a blessing by a local pastor and a fellowship time. The homeowner attends, and receives a Bible for their home, a housewarming gift, and a hammer as a symbol of the work they put into the building.
Lekeita Anthony is working the 3-400 sweat equity hours required for homeownership. She said those she has met through Habitat for Humanity have become like family. They have “turned my impossible to possible.” Anthony is expected to move her family into a new Habitat home in the spring.
Anthony’s home was begun during the affiliate’s annual monthlong Women Build. But while the homes begin with Women Build, volunteers are needed all year long to bring them to completion, Casborné said.
The affiliate also hosts an annual Community Partners Breakfast to gather support from the community. This year’s breakfast will be held March 8, she said.
She said the revenues from the affiliate’s ReStore are a significant source of funds that “help build an average of three homes a year.” Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West ReStore is at 1400 North Lane off La. 59 in Mandeville. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Habitat West has also made progress in increasing energy efficiency in the homes it builds. There is radiant barrier roofing, closed cell spray foam insulation under the flooring of raised homes, LED/CFL lighting, energy efficient HVAC systems and other features that exceeded code requirements. These improvements lead to lower utility bills for the homeowners.
While the chapter affiliate does not have a specific veteran’s program, Casborné said the Homeownership Counselors work with veterans to secure loans for Habitat homes. They have arranged a lease-purchase agreement with one veteran “while he is in that process,” she said.
The application process for future Habitat homeowners is open year round, she said.
For information, visit www.habitatstw.org or call (985) 893-3172.