Unity Build Homeowner Latonya Toomer

Latonya Toomer has specific plans for when her home is complete. Those plans involve mermaids.

Her home will be built in partnership with 15 faith groups from around the New Orleans area in October as part of NOAHH’s Unity Build. The Build will take place every weekend of the month, with the home being built from floor system to finished house in 12 days. After such an exhausting schedule, her first step is to rest.

“The first thing that I’m going to do when I get into my home?” she said. “I’m going to say a prayer and thank God. And then I’m going to relax and probably have a good night’s sleep. Take a me bath. Yes, I’m taking me a good bath. And soak. And then I’m going to get in the bed and have a good night’s sleep.”

After that, she’s going to start decorating.

“I want to decorate the whole living room in ‘mermaid’ decorations and aqua blue, because I like mermaids,” she said. “My [14-year old] daughter, she wants to do turquoise and silver. She loves those colors. My baby girl, she likes blue. That’s her favorite color. And then the kitchen is going to be in wine decorations—cheese and wine.”

Latonya has spent the last year working through the NOAHH homeownership program. Unity Build marks the last step toward homeownership for her.

“I’m going to really be happy when I’m able to walk through the door,” she said. “I know it’s almost there. When my case manager called me in, and she gave me the floor plans, I was excited about that. They gave me the floor plans, [and] I knew it was real. Each little step, you know, is more and more.”

Raised by her father, Latonya lived with eight of her 13 siblings growing up. She shared a bed with two of her sisters, sleeping head to foot. She didn’t have a room of her own until she moved out. Now, she has a whole house for her and her family. She has four children, but two of her daughters are grown.

“You want your children to have more than what you had,” she said. “Even with me having an apartment, they had more than I had coming up. I’m very thankful that I’m able to give them a home.”

After a long search for a way to become a homeowner, she decided to try Habitat.

“I didn’t know that I would get accepted,” she said. “When she called me and let me know that I had gotten accepted, it was unbelievable. Because I didn’t know that I could get accepted. I just took my chances, really. I was ready to become a homeowner. I went through other programs, and everything was a fail. I wanted my own. The amount of money that I pay in rent is like… That’s a house note. And I had the money. I just didn’t have the credit.”

The Habitat program requires all partner families to do 350 hours of sweat equity, which includes two classes (a first-time homebuyer class and a financial literacy class) and hours in the ReStore and on the build site. When she first applied to the program, like many Habitat homebuyers, she found that she had some old debts to handle first. With help from the financial literacy classes she took as part of the program, she was able to clear them up.

“I think it was just old hospital bills. They settled out with me, and I had to pay it off. I never even thought about doing all that, because I couldn’t even get a credit card. I never had a credit card. Couldn’t get a car. Every car I had—I’m kind of old-school because that’s the way I was raised, just pay cash money for everything. I never used credit cards for nothing. That’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing, also. When you do get ready to make a big purchase, it’s not beneficial to you at all, because you have no credit. I had to fix it. So thank God now my credit is so much better [now]. After going through [the financial literacy classes], my credit is better. I paid off my debts. Knowledge is power. I did not know to do all that.”

Her other sweat equity hours meant working alongside volunteers and other partner families.

“They had law students, they had people from Xavier, LSU,” she said. “I took a picture also with a group. They had people coming from all over the world. They even had some people that didn’t come as a group that was just going out there because they just have a passion for helping people. And when I was first starting out, when I would go out there, I seen [other partner families] that was out there, and they had completed their hours, and when I worked with people like that, and my [hours] were low, that was more motivation for me to keep pushing. The people that was in the same range [of sweat equity hours] with me it was just more like, ‘Hey, we’re doing it, you know?'”

Now she’s almost done with her hours, and with Unity Build coming up, her home is about to be complete.

“Home, is, to me—it’s a saying that I’ve heard before, but home is where your heart is. It’s loving. The people that’s in it is what makes it home. A warm place. A place of peace. A place that you can go and you can just forget everything. And close off.”