Lauren Wright hastily swiped away tears as she stood in the 300 block of Georgia Street on Saturday afternoon and looked at the property that will become her future home through Lafayette Habitat for Humanity.
Wright was one of six future homeowners who symbolically broke ground on a new round of Habitat projects Saturday. Wright’s home will be one of three houses built on side-by-side lots beginning at 301 Georgia St., while a fourth house is planned on Rendon Drive and another on Magnolia Street. A sixth home will be built in the Truman neighborhood.
Each house will cost roughly $110,000 to construct, with grant funds through Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Department of Community Development, Wells Fargo and proceeds from Habitat’s ReStore supporting the projects, Lafayette Habitat of Humanity Executive Director Melinda Taylor said.
The future three-bedroom, two-bathroom home will house Wright, her 11-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. The 39-year-old single mother said their apartment in Broussard is nice, but it’s not where she wants her children to live their whole lives. Her son “desperately” wants a dog, but with no backyard and a small apartment space, it’s not workable, she said.
“It’s just having something that’s ours where I can do what I want -- like when Christmastime comes. We can decorate, have cookouts in the backyard and just make a happy home that they feel safe and secure in,” Wright said. “I want to be able to say it’s mine and I did this.”
Wright, who works in data entry for Schlumberger, said she went through the traditional mortgage-lending process but every home she qualified for required significant repairs or didn’t meet the family’s needs. It was a struggle navigating the process with her single income, she said.
She stumbled upon the Habitat for Humanity application by accident while searching online for affordable summer childcare for her son three years ago. There have been delays in funding for the project and additional lags because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at times Wright said she felt dejected, like her dream of a home would never come to fruition.
“I would try to stay optimistic but you have your days where you think it’s never going to happen,” she said.
After gripping her ceremonial gold shovel and tossing dirt Saturday, Wright said she felt “amazing.” She’s completed Habitat’s homeownership classes, received credit counseling and volunteered on work sites, including for neighbors on Georgia Street, and learned how to do everything from lay a floor to operate a circular saw, she said.
Wright said she feels a little nervous, but also empowered as she takes the next step toward homeownership. Mostly, she feels grateful.
“They found a way for me to accomplish what I’ve always wanted,” Wright said.
Taylor said the Georgia Street project, Magnolia Street home and build on Rendon Drive are part of a long-term investment in the revitalization of the McComb-Veazy historic neighborhood in Lafayette. To date, the group has built over 30 homes in the neighborhood, she said.
The neighborhood, historically Black, saw a decline in homeownership over time as market policies disadvantaged Black people and other minorities, pushing them toward renting instead of owning, Taylor said.
“Habitat has its roots in the social justice movement of the ‘60s, really. The very foundation of Habitat was the recognition of the obligation that people who have benefitted from a system have to take proactive steps to help people who haven’t benefited from it and who’ve actually been harmed by it,” the executive director said.
Habitat for Humanity serves anyone who qualifies for their program and is willing to invest themselves in the process, but many future homeowners who come to Lafayette’s Habitat are Black, she said.
Habitat for Humanity helps future homeowners gain access to the housing market by serving as both mortgage lender and contractor for the projects, providing low- or zero-interest mortgages. Homeowners also participate in a “sweat equity” system, contributing physical labor to their project and volunteering hours at other Habitat builds.
Once in their homes, the new homeowners have a solid base to build future financial security. When residents are financially secure and can look beyond meeting their needs, they can shift their attention to investing in the community, she said.
“Homeownership increase means good things for a neighborhood. Rentals are necessary but there needs to be a good balanced mix,” Taylor said.