Women of NOAHH: Denise Brown
Every partner family is different. Some enter the program with some construction experience, while others have almost none. Four years ago, Denise Brown didn’t know how to hold a hammer. She couldn’t paint a wall. She couldn’t fix a sink. She couldn’t change a light bulb. When those things needed to be done, she called her father. Just a few weeks ago, however, Denise crawled under her bathroom sink after her niece and nephew broke the drain. She grabbed the stopper, looked at the drain, and screwed the stopper back into place. An easy job for someone who understands plumbing, screwing in a stopper is not a job that Denise would have attempted before she worked with New Orleans Habitat.
Denise is now the owner of the 500th home that NOAHH built. Even though she has been living in this home for over two years and six months, she still feels overjoyed for her home, and for what she learned while building homes with NOAHH. Since Denise moved into her home, she regularly performs routine maintenance and uses her hammer.
“When I got my house, I felt like I could do it,” she said. “You think sometimes, ‘I need a man to do it.’ I don’t need a man do it. I can do it all myself.”
As Denise fulfilled more than her required 350 hours of sweat equity, she learned the fundamentals of construction and doesn’t call her father as often for repair jobs anymore. She credits NOAHH with not only teaching her the skills, but giving her the confidence to own and maintain her home: “Habitat made me believe that I could do it.”
Over 70% of NOAHH’s homes are owned by families with a female head-of-household or by individual women, and each homeowner worked the same sweat equity hours as Denise, learning new skills and honing old ones. As of 2013, 58% of single-mother households in New Orleans were below the poverty line, more than the national average, so the need for affordable housing is especially high for women in the New Orleans area. Affording home repair in these circumstances is often unmanageable, even for those above or at the poverty line, especially with families to care for. Learning how to maintain and repair a home can be crucial to financial stability. New Orleans Habitat’s program, by addressing these needs, has helped empower hundreds of women.
NOAHH’s Women Build,which will begin in the spring of 2017, celebrates the continued empowerment of women in our community and the contributions women have made to the mission of affordable housing. During this event, an all-female team of volunteers and NOAHH staff will build a home from the ground up. Women Build will provide a supportive environment for women to share new skills with each other, and at the end of the four-week blitz build, this women-built home will go to a hard-working New Orleans woman and her family.
More than teaching Denise how to fix a sink and hold a hammer, her time with NOAHH’s homeownership program helped her become more independent, giving her confidence in her ability to repair her home, helping her achieve financial stability, and giving her the security of home equity, and Women Build will empower another woman to achieve the same.