Whitney Jett is a NOAHH partner family who started her partnership in June 2016. NOAHH will be following her story through the entire partnership and hopefully beyond. Part 1 is about her background before she came to NOAHH.
“I’m old school,” Yolanda Nunnery said. “I believe in owning your own house, so I was 25 when I purchased my home. That’s me putting that in her. I love owning everything. I don’t want to pay rent. I never did want to pay rent, ’cause you never own it. I never leased anything, ’cause you never own it. I buy stuff.”
On January 29, 1988, Yolanda closed on a home in New Orleans East, in an area where no one else had yet moved in. She was always looking for the better deal–for anything–and had found an apartment with a very affordable rent, which allowed her to save up to buy a home. She looked at developments on the West Bank, where she was living at the time, but found out about new construction going on in “rural” parts of New Orleans East, where the homes would be cheaper.
“It was nice but scary because I didn’t have neighbors,” she said. “I didn’t have houses next to me. I had to worry after I bought it. I was like, ‘wait a minute, I don’t know who’s gonna move in next door.’ It was nice but scary. It was nice when people started coming out there, because back then it was really quiet. They didn’t have a lot of traffic. It was really quiet. I had pictures, but Katrina took them. I coulda shown it to you. It was nice.”
Yolanda knew from a young age that she wanted to own her own home. Her father instilled in her a sense of responsibility and a need for independence. He began working when he was 15 years old, and as Yolanda puts it, he learned financial fitness through “hard knocks.” She passed the lessons he taught her on to her daughter, Whitney Jett. Whitney (and her sister) grew up in that home in New Orleans East, learning from their independent mother how to plan, make budgets, and work hard. They also learned the value of owning a home.
“He taught independence to his kids because he never wanted his girls to be dependent on any guys,” Yolanda said. “I had two girls, and I didn’t want them to be dependent. So you raise them to do what they gotta do on their own. You take care of yourself.”
After graduating college, Whitney decided to move out to California. Her mother’s lessons on financial independence served Whitney well when she moved to Los Angeles. She and her older sister rented a place together for a time, but when her sister moved away to New York, she knew she would have to find a way to live on her own while working at Target.
“It was the first time I was on my own, having to pay my own bills by myself for a change,” she said. “I had to basically grow up instantly. I was already on that track, but it was like ‘Do it now. You don’t have time to grow into this. Just do it now.’ Even when I was out there, I still wanted to own a house in California, but looking at the prices, I thought, ‘Not at this job. I can’t do a thing.’”
She sat down, did the math, and found she had to add to her budget things she’d never thought of before, like utilities, Internet, and even the occasional night out.
“I still managed to hang out with my friends once a week and budget what I could,” she said. “If I didn’t have the money, I just didn’t have it.”
She ended up paying $900 a month for an apartment and finding ways to make it work, but after a while, she felt drawn back to New Orleans. The high rent was matched by higher prices for everything, including New Orleans staples like shrimp, which was nearly $15 a pound (“Not even with the heads on! It was horrible!”), and crawfish, which was over $10 a pound (“and the corn and potatoes and stuff were extra!”). She found that even her attempts to bring New Orleans to Los Angeles weren’t enough.
“[Los Angeles] has a character, but it’s only into certain parts of the city,” she said. “New Orleans has the central character to it. All of the cultures blend together. Where every other major city they just kinda separated like Chinatown or Little Armenia. We have a New Orleans culture. They don’t have an L.A. culture. It’s something I grew up with, and I’m just so used to it. I went to a friend’s Salvadorian birthday party. They had a band there, and the music was similar to a second line band. I pulled out a napkin and started second lining. Her mom looked at me like I was crazy. My friend said, ‘No, she’s just from New Orleans!'” She made a plan to return home by June 2016, but she decided to return much sooner, arriving in time for Thanksgiving in 2015.
“I felt too far away,” she said. “It felt like the longer I was there, the longer I was gonna be there. At a certain point, I was like, I gotta move back.”
A few months after returning, Whitney would make a decision that would help her realize her dream…