Every U.S. veteran deserves a decent and affordable place to live, but not every veteran has access to affordable housing.
According to the NLIHC Veteran Report, more than 1.5 million U.S. veteran households pay more than 50% of their income on housing, leaving them severely cost burdened. This includes half of our male veterans who are black and have an income that is considered to be low or very low, plus 82% of female veterans who are single mothers and have an income that is considered very low, or extremely low.
At Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, we know that affordable housing has the power to change lives and improve communities. We’ve witnessed the positive impact as it’s unfolded for many Habitat Families, including those who have served our country. In recognition of Veterans Day, we’ve connected with three veterans who own Habitat homes, and today, we have the honor of sharing how partnership with Habitat has allowed them to reconnect with the strength, stability and self-reliance that enabled them to serve in the first place.
Meet Mark, Habitat Homeowner since April 2020
Mark is a U.S. Air Force Veteran who works in our warehouse. Like many former armed service members, Mark has a passion for giving back to those in need. After retiring from the Air Force and marrying his wife Teresa, Mark felt pretty good about the trajectory of his life – he had a stable job, he found ways to serve others by feeding the homeless, plus, he and his wife were starting a family.
“I thought that I only had to work hard and save money, and I could own a home to raise my children in,” Mark says. He had no idea what challenges were ahead.
First, an accident, which left his wife incapacitated for months, created medical bills that drained their meager savings. Then, Mark was laid off from his stable job of eight years due to changes in his industry. His family even went through a brief period of homelessness, themselves, before being approved for a section-8 apartment. Still, the struggle didn’t end there.
“We paid more to live in our section-8 housing than we do for our Habitat home,” Mark says. “Plus, we would find people’s trash in our yard—often drug baggies and fast food cups. There was a shooting… and car stereos would shake our apartment at night,”
Not one to ask for help, it was Mark’s wife Teresa who encouraged him to apply for a Habitat home. “I couldn’t believe it when we were selected. We were just so hungry for stability; we all pitched in and completed our sweat equity hours really quickly.”
With a little help, Mark and Teresa have begun to rebuild the stability their family once knew. Access to an affordable mortgage has given them the power to purchase the home they’ve always dreamed of owning. It’s given them the power to ensure that their children will grow up in an environment that’s safe and clean. Plus, both Mark and Teresa feel confident that they’ll be in a place where they can start giving back to those in need – the way they used to.
“I love my home. It’s changed our lives,” Mark says. “And I’ve got the American flag flying out front because we really are living the American dream.”
This is Tony, Habitat Homeowner since May 2019
Through years of serving in the U.S. Army, Tony discovered that helping others is what gives him strength. His discipline and work ethic were important, but his strength always came from uplifting those around him.
When Tony returned home, like so many veterans, the battle was just beginning. Transitioning to civilian life was hard and unnecessary barriers made accessing support programs an exhaustive process.
“Every veteran soldier – once you step away from the military, you should be able to have a home,” Tony says.
Even so, he found that his own life was in a downward spiral as he contemplated the option of living in his car.
Then, Tony’s strength was needed. His two nieces, Terry and Phyderica, plus his nephew, Omarion, were suddenly in need of a parent. Without hesitation, Tony stepped in, adopted his nieces and his nephew, and began putting his life together—for them.
Wanting to give his kids the fresh start they deserved with better, more affordable living conditions, Tony sought partnership with Habitat. Now, Tony owns his home, pays an affordable mortgage, and feels empowered to be the source of strength and stability that his children need.
As time has passed, we’ve seen Tony grow into, not just an amazing parent, but an incredible community leader. Living in a neighborhood with other Habitat Homeowners has given Tony the opportunity to serve and uplift those around him. As a leader, Tony regularly advocates for his neighbors, partners with the homeowner’s association, and spearheads initiatives for the good of his community.
“Affordability can help people survive better,” He says.
More than that – it can help people thrive. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to afford a home, but if you’re in a community where everybody own’s their homes, everybody feels like millionaires.”
Say Hello to Sarahi, Habitat Homeowner since October 2015
Sarahi is a Fort Myers native, single mother of two, and U.S. Army Veteran. Like many single, female veterans, Sarahi struggled to afford her expensive rent. Lacking access to affordable housing made it difficult to give her children the life she knew they deserved.
“I remember how it felt to have a room of my own as a child – the excitement and comfort – and I wanted to provide that same stability for my two girls,” Sarahi says.
Through her partnership with Habitat, Sarahi was able to make that dream a reality. After receiving the keys to her newly purchased home, the space was filled with immediate joy as then 6-year-old Karelyz and 3-year-old Karen skipped from room to room. “This is my very own room – I can’t wait to decorate it!” Karelyz said. “This house is going to be awesome,” she added as the girls danced through the home that they would finally call their own.
This particular home was sponsored by our current CEO, Becky Lucas and her husband, Brain, back in 2015. Inspired by the love that they’d both been given throughout their lives, Becky and Brian decided to name it The Anteros Home,” which means “returned love” in Greek.
It’s no secret that it takes both love and dedication to serve one’s country as Sarahi did, so it’s only fitting that she ended up purchasing this home that Becky and Brian helped build – this home of “returned love.”
Happy Veterans Day
No matter who we are or where we come from, we all deserve a decent and affordable place to live, including veterans like Mark, Tony, and Sarahi. Here at Habitat, we are extremely grateful for each and every member of our armed services – past, present and future. Likewise, we are grateful for those who help Habitat serve those who’ve served. Thank you to Veteran Build Partner Beacon Point Associates on this special day.
In honor of Veterans Day, we humbly salute all those who have served.
If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing affordable homeownership through Habitat, click here to learn more.