A home for the holidays

Published 9:03 pm Monday, December 18, 2023

Christmas came early for Shawda Williams and her family, as Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads and city officials gathered for the dedication ceremony of her new home on Saturday, Dec. 16.

Noted as a workaholic who loves caring for others, including animals and the elderly, Williams shared a two-bedroom apartment with her son, mother, stepfather, and four dogs before receiving her new home. Williams reflected on the application process, detailing that it opens once per year from May 1 through the 31.

“Once you go through the application, they go through them and pretty much select five families … I was number three selected. It took about, I’m going on two years for this total process, so it’s not anything quick,” Williams said. “You have to have a lot of patience and a lot of discipline because you can’t buy anything.”

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Williams also talked about what it was like receiving the news that she was selected for her new home.

“Man, I almost cried! My heart was beating so fast,” she said. “It took a minute for it to go down. Everything started sweating, palms, feet, everything. I was just so excited.”

Celebrating with Williams was Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads Executive Director Frank Hruska, who also broke down further details about the homeownership process.

“People think you can build a house in a couple days, you can’t. [It’s] not TV, it takes a while. So first, we picked a family, and normally, the family gets picked about two years beforehand almost. Last year, we received 300 applications for homeownership and we only picked five, so it’s just an idea that a homeowner gets selected means that they’re above the cut to buy a home,” Hruska said. “Then the homeowner goes through one year of education, they meet one day a month … for financial management, to mortgage, insurance, how to be a good homeowner …”

Hruska says this permit process also includes finding and purchasing land, totaling an 18-month effort before moving toward the four to five-month house building time frame. Likewise, he says the key to the house is how it is sold at an affordable rate.

“Our mortgages are lower than what they pay for rent, because we subsidize the size of the price of the house down to make sure the homeowner can afford it. And it can only do that with donations and sponsors from corporations, partners with the cities, individuals …” he said. “So the key to keeping a house affordable on my end to build a house is that 85 percent of the home is built by volunteers.”

Likewise, Hruska emphasized HFH’s mission to help and reward hardworking citizens with a good credit score and who want to be a part of the community.

“Throughout the whole country, there’s a need for affordable housing. If you’re making $70,000 a year, you can’t buy a house in Hampton Roads, and some people can make $100,000 and still can’t qualify for a house,” Hruska said. “So if you have a job and you serve the community, you work in a doctor’s office as a receptionist making $45,000, you should have a right to have a part of the American dream. So all we do is not provide people need, we give them a ‘Hand-up, not a Handout,’ and we help them accomplish their American dream of being a homeowner.”

On what the future holds for Williams and her family?

“To live here and make all the memories as I can,” Williams said. “Have plenty of cookouts and family gatherings and yeah, I’m just going to enjoy the rest of my life here.”

For more information on Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads, visit shrhabitat.org.