WEST PULLMAN — Move-in day arrived on a stretch of new homes on South Emerald Avenue in West Pullman built by Habitat for Humanity Chicago and furnished by volunteers eager to make them perfect.
Two families got the keys to their new homes last week, completing a complex journey that ended with gasps, joy and lot of hugs.
The new homeowners, Brittany Lancaster and Denae Shanks, are graduates of the project’s Affordable Homeownership Program that helps applicants become homeowners during a 12- to 18-month process. During this process, Lancaster and Shanks completed a series of homebuyer education classes and 250 volunteer hours.
After that, the graduates get a chance at buy a Habitat-built home with the help of a mortgage bill (with insurance and property taxes) that won’t exceed 30 percent of their household income, according to Jennifer Parks, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Chicago. The homes cost about $150,000.
Despite having graduated in January, Lancaster and Shanks had to delay their move-in amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the homes were built, the insides were still unfurnished, which is where Humble Design Chicago came in.
The group collaborated with Habitat for Humanity Chicago to give the families a completely furnished home free of cost.
Shanks and son Darius got to move in last week.
“It is such a privilege and I’m blessed beyond measures to have a new house to have somebody come in and furnish the whole house,” said Shanks. “Many people don’t have that our opportunity, I’m just thankful.”
“One of the things that really drives me is knowing the impact that this has,” said Julie Dickinson, director at Humble Design Chicago. “A piece of art on the wall, having something with your name on it, pictures of the families, it gives families a sense of home and stability.”
All furniture and household goods are donated and used by their design team to personalize homes for the client’s needs and preferences.
It was important to understand the family’s necessities and provide them with the necessary resources to feel at home. For Shanks, this means a craft room. For Lancaster, it’s a yard stocked up with toys and trinkets to keep her toddler entertained.
“It’s such a life-affirming experience, you get to see the expression on a kid’s face that maybe has never had his own bed before,” said Cheryl Magiera, a member of the Humble Designs board and volunteer. “There are tears involved on both sides, happy tears, and it’s just great.”
With COVID-19 restricting large crowds, Humble Designs struggled to provide a full service for families and stuck to curbside pick-up. Fortunately for Lancaster and Shanks, this was the very first time in their home, which gave Humble Designs the opportunity to approach this situation how they normally would.
To capture the family’s preferences and make everything come together, Humble Designs had the help of two movers and two designers along with around 10 volunteers from Humble Designs and the Lothamer Group, a Chicago-based real estate team.
“It’s important to be involved in the community and help people establish new homes and help people come out of homelessness,” said Elizabeth Lothamer, its founder and principal. “Every time that you see a family come home and look at how everything has been designed, that’s one of the best parts of doing this.”
For new homeowner Lancaster, it’s an opportunity to live in a place she and her son can call their own.
“I’m in a house I can call my home and not depend on anyone. I don’t have to be under someone else’s roof,” said Lancaster. “I’ve been homeless before, I know what it’s like to not have permanent housing, this makes me feel stable and it makes me feel secure, I have someone to call my own.”
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