On Thursday, February 23rd, Assistant Secretary Pamela Patenaude announced the award of some $10.7 million to Habitat for Humanity International under HUD's Self-Help Homeownership Program. The funds will enable Habitat's local affiliates to purchase land and make infrastructure improvements. Eligible Habitat families will then donate at least 100 hours of "sweat equity" to build a house, often the first home they have ever owned.
Left to right: Ozzie Johnson (Ms. Johnson's sister), Gloria Johnson and Lorraine Austin, the founder of Peninsula Habitat. Photo courtesy of Adrin Snider of The Daily Press
"With a little investment and elbow grease," Patenaude said, "great things can happen and our SHOP program is proof of that."
All told, the Department's SHOP program has awarded almost $50 million to Habitat in the last four years alone. That's a lot of money. But it's not money, but opportunity that tells the real story of the homeownership partnership between Habitat and the Department.
Like the opportunity celebrated on a cold winter's day on 23rd Street in Newport News, Virginia. Owned by Gloria Johnson, a single mom and former resident of public housing, the home was built 20 years ago and was the very first undertaken by Habitat's Peninsula chapter.
For Peninsula Habitat, that was 85 homes and a generation ago. In fact, joining Johnson at the celebration were two members of what The Daily Press called Habitat's "next generation" � Shawnte Gwathney who, with her four kids, moved into her Habitat home in December and Cordella Clay who has already put 50 of the required 400 hours of sweat equity into her new home.
Standing off to one side at the celebration was Lorraine Austin. With nothing more than a printing press and just $5,000, she founded Peninsula Habitat some 20 years ago. "It was terrifying," she told Monique Angle of The Daily Press.
Not anymore. "It always feels like a struggle - like an uphill battle and nobody cares about them," Austin said about people with the gleam of homeownership in their eyes like Gwathney, Clay and Johnson. "But then they are at work with 150 volunteers - people who they have never known before - who are working so that they can get a house."
And then you get to the top of the hill called homeownership. How does that feel? Just ask Gloria Johnson who was in such a hurry to own her home that she found a way to pay off the mortgage two years early. "It felt," she assured all who wanted to roll up their sleeves and follow her example, "real good."
Peninsula Habitat for Humanity serves the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and Williamsburg and James City and York counties.