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Pensacola Habitat for Humanity is seeing a huge increase in home applications, especially among single mothers of color

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Grace McCaffery
WUWF Public Media

Like many places, the lack of affordable housing in Northwest Florida has been compounded by soaring rental costs since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic set in.

Habitat for Humanity’s mission has been to build new houses for qualifying residents and they’ve seen an increasing need, especially among single mothers of color. One Pensacola woman is in the process of seeing her dream of homeownership come true and is excited about getting a lift from other women in the community.

“The biggest part is me being the first in my family to own a home,” said Latoya Evans, fighting back tears as she described the pride she has in being able to purchase the new house that’s now being built for her and her five-year-old son. “There were five of kids, and my mom and my dad. You know, my mom, growing up, she tried her best. Both of them did. I guess they just couldn’t afford it.”

“Her and my son, they’re my pusher, because I know if my mom could do it with five kids, I can do it with one.”

Evans says she had to increase her income to qualify for the program that requires the owner can pay the mortgage. Her decision to work toward buying a home weighed heavily because of her son.

“I feel like living in an apartment I am robbing him of his childhood by keeping him in the house because I just don’t feel safe letting him outside playing,” Evans said. “I thank God that we have a roof over our head, but that’s an apartment, that’s not our home.”

Habitat for Humanity helps homebuyers like Evans access funds to make down payments and provides financial counseling programs as the only certified HUD counselors in the Florida Panhandle.

Additionally, the organization helps interested families learn about budgeting, home maintenance and other life experience to help them become successful homeowners.

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Grace McCaffery
WUWF Public Media
Women Build volunteers help work on a Habitat house in October.

“While finding a solution for homeownership is very important and the core of what we do, there are currently vulnerable people out there that currently own a home but are at risk of losing it," said Sam Young, president and CEO at Habitat for Humanity.

He spoke about the organization's concerns regarding the long-term financial sustainability of home ownership at a recent presentation in Pensacola.

“They don’t have the income necessarily to keep up with the damages, the preventative maintenance, the broken windows, the roof repairs," he added. "And, frankly, I would argue losing a home is maybe even more traumatic than never finding a home to live in.”

The non-profit organization celebrated 41 home closings in the 2022 fiscal year. They also made 33 critical home repairs to aid in sustainable homeownership.

Pensacola Habitat for Humanity’s Homebuyer Program received more than 900 applications in 2021, nearly 300 more than they received in 2020. They have already received nearly 700 applications as of the beginning of October 2022.

Back at the home build for Evans, she’s been putting in her own sweat equity. But, she has also assisted others on the homeownership journey. She helped build a house through Habitat in May of this year. She also volunteered working hours at Habitat’s ReStore where revenue from selling donated furniture, appliances, building materials, and more is used to help acquire properties for more homes.

“I wish everyone would get more involved,” she said. “Even if you don’t want to apply for a house, just get out there and help someone.”

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Grace McCaffery
WUWF Public Media
Volunteers work on a house for Habitat for Humanity Women Build program.

Helping someone is exactly what motivated Reina Simpson to involved with building Evan’s home.

Simpson is a participant in Habitat’s Women Build program that recruits teams of women to help build the frame of a house.

“I learned about it from a friend on Facebook,” Simpson said. “She’s been doing this for many years, and for many years I’ve been interested in helping, but didn’t have time because of work. But right now, we are doing much better, thank God, so we can help a little more.”

Simpson says though she has done projects at home and has helped her husband with repairs at the restaurant that they own, she has learned a lot from this experience such as the difference in the quality of lumber.

Giving a family a boost toward a better life is how Simpson described the volunteer work of helping to build a home. And, she said the experience was made more special after learning that Evans will be the first homeowner in her family.

Evans is grateful.

"Blood does not make you family. Love does. When you’ve got someone out there that doesn’t know you, all they know if your story that you posted, and they are willing to take time out of their day? That’s family."