Habitat for Humanity’s newest homeowner, Jamie Miller, is not unlike any other member of the community. She did not have extraordinary circumstances which lead her to applying for a Habitat home – she simply wanted to be a homeowner. The 39 year old, mother of three has lived in Monroe her whole life. She works as a manager and caretaker for a local apartment complex, where she also currently lives with her children. After spending eight years tending to the housing needs of others, she is finally able to tend to her own, with the help of Habitat for Humanity.
Jamie originally applied to own a Habitat home years ago, but her credit score was too low to start the program.
“I actually was glad it didn’t go through at the time,” she said. “I thought I wanted a home, but mentally, and physically, and financially, could not afford it.”
Since then, Jamie worked to improve her credit and is now ready for a home. This year, the only problem for her was coming up with a down payment. That’s when Habitat for Humanity stepped in, when she applied again in June of 2017.
“It’s something I never thought would happen after my divorce,” she said. “I thought I would always live in an apartment. I thought I’d never own a home ever again.”
In the Habitat homeowner program, applicants only need to save at least $1,000, as part of their down payment. Their mortgage payments then work out to be no more than 30 percent of the homeowner’s gross monthly income.
Eventually, Jamie realized she had the inspiration to ready herself for homeownership.
“My children,” she said. “They want to go out and play basketball and baseball and do that in their own yard.”
Jamie has two sons, aged 9 and 12, and one daughter, 16. Her sons are involved in sports, and she said they’d spend all day outdoors if they could. At their current apartment, they don’t have the space to do much and there aren’t any parks nearby that the kids can go to by themselves.
Preparing to buy a home, isn’t just about the financial responsibility but the emotional one too. The Habitat homeownership program requires personal discipline, to meet all the qualifications. Jamie said that the program absolutely changed her as a person.
“You’re buying a home and you mature very quickly,” she said.
The aspiring homeowners must attend workshops covering home maintenance, personal finance, and budgeting. As far as financial advice, Jamie only has one simple suggestion for future homeowners.
“Just don’t spend,” she said. “We don’t go to the movies every Friday night now.”
Aside from her new financially responsible habits, she’s also learned the value of hard work. Applicants have to complete 200 hours of sweat equity, and 100 hours must be spent volunteering on Habitat build sites.
“It’s been wonderful; I love working on the site,” Jamie said. “Everybody’s just been wonderful and very helpful.”
Jamie had no prior knowledge of construction work or home building, before she started volunteering. She’s since put up walls, painted, installed siding, and installed bathtubs, among other things.
“You learn things you didn’t know, that you had no clue went into them,” she said, of the homebuilding process. “It makes you appreciate it a little bit more.”
Jamie even worked on her own house, from the time that they spray painted the floorplan on the grass, to now when it’s nearly completed. But at the time, she didn’t know it would be hers. Habitat doesn’t assign houses to the homeowner until 50 hours of sweat equity have been put in, and the applicants don’t get to pick the homes. Jamie knew right away though, that this was the one she wanted.
“I prayed,” she said. “Prayer is good.”
Jamie said it was the yard that initially attracted her to that particular house. She wanted it so badly that she kept progress pictures of the house being built on her phone, in hopes that it would be hers.
“It’s absolutely exciting to go out there everyday and see what’s been done, what’s not been done,” she said.
“When the walls went up, that was just overwhelming at first,” she said. “It was like ‘oh my gosh it’s really a house!’”
She recalls taking her kids to see the house, shortly after they finished the garage, and her son asked how they made the house so much bigger. He then enthusiastically claimed that the garage would be his bedroom.
“I never imagined I would have a two and a half car garage,” Jamie said.
Jamie has to share a parking lot with her neighbors where she currently lives. It’s also her job, if someone is parked in someone else’s assigned spot, to have their car towed. In the ten years that Jamie has lived there, she’s also been a manager for the complex for eight of them. She took over as apartment caretaker, four years ago. Since then, Jamie has become the go to person for all of the resident’s issues. This includes being on call 24 hours a day, for maintenance emergencies, when people lock themselves out of their homes, or any other issues that arise. Jamie said she loves her job and the people, but she needs separation between her home and work. Living off of her work’s property will allow that, as well as other little perks that come with living in a house.
“We can turn the tv up,” she said. “It’s not apartment living. You have the room to have people over, just different things like that.”
Jamie is expected to finish the program and move in around November or December, just in time for the holidays. Her kids already want to go decorate the house, even though it’s still under construction.
“I’m looking forward to a real Christmas tree,” she said. “It’s the little things that my kids and I enjoy, that we can’t do anymore,” she said, referring to the restrictions of her apartment.
Jamie said the kids are already planning to build a flower bed for her, because they know how much she used to enjoy gardening.
“My son’s already wanting to buy the lawnmowers,” she said.
Her son is also already scoping out places that he can fish, since their house will be near a beach.
“From day one, the kids have called that place home,” she said. “They tell me all the time they’re proud of me.”
Jamie’s kids continue to inspire her everyday. They were the reason she applied for a house and now they’re the reason that she continues to work hard. She only has about 40 hours of volunteering left to complete. She was accepted into the program in June of 2017 and started working on her hours in July.
“This is something we really want, so I’m making sure it’s happening,” she said. “I’m making sure I’m not going to have to tell them that we can’t do it.”
The houses only take around four months to build, but it takes most people six to 12 months to complete their hours. The construction crew only builds with volunteers on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, so homeowners can choose when they work on the sites. Jamie worked all three days, every week.
“I never thought I’d get it this fast,” she said. “I’m nervous, who wouldn’t be?”
Jamie knows that homeownership is no easy task. She said the thing she is most nervous about is the mortgage payment.
“I know I can do it. It’s just, ‘am I disciplined enough,’” she said. “I’m going to have to be.”
No matter how nervous she is, Jamie has faith that the people of Habitat wouldn’t steer her in the wrong direction, or give her something she can’t handle.
“They’re not going to set you up for failure,” she said.
Jamie now recommends the program to everyone that she can.
“Just go, it’s a wonderful program,” she said, of what she would tell people who are thinking about applying.
“They’ll find a way to work with you,” she said, “if you’re willing to do the work, which you have to be willing to do the work.”
She also knows that many people have misconceptions about Habitat homeowners, or who can apply for a home. She wants everyone to know that it’s not strictly a low-income program, or only for people that are homeless.
“As long as you income qualify, it’s for everybody,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”