The Freedom to Dream

What would you do with a few hundred extra dollars each month?

Ashley Martin started a business. She traveled. She transformed her home. All because the mortgage on her Habitat home was lower than the rent she had been paying for years.

“I can’t speak highly enough of how it’s impacted my life since I’ve been a homeowner,” she said. “This has just opened up my world immensely to what was possible, to what I could accomplish and to what more I want. It gave me the freedom to dream. It just opened up a world for me.”

Eleven years ago, Ashley Martin was 25 years old, fresh out of school, with three kids, trying to get a traditional home loan.

“My income didn’t allow me to afford a home. Being denied, it put me in a box I was uncomfortable in. It shocked my world,” she said. “So I went to an alternative, and that’s what led me to Habitat. It was just a perfect fit.”

She applied to the Habitat program and was accepted. She worked her sweat equity alongside volunteers from all over the world, learned new skills on the build site, and completed the program and her home after a little over a year.

“The building process was enlightening. It showed me that you can do these things yourself,” she said. “Once I moved in, I’ve been hands on. I’ve changed the outside [of the home]. That’s something that the program taught me. We painted the inside five times and repainted the outside ourselves just two years ago. And I remodeled my own bathroom. It gave me a sense of ownership and stability. That was really what I was looking for at that time.”

Since moving into her home, she has had another child, started her own business, and taken her kids on trips they couldn’t go on before.

“It gave me the courage ten years ago to start my own business,” she said. “After that job that didn’t allow me to [earn enough] to purchase a home, I left that job, and I started a cleaning service.”

Her business, a Jan-Pro franchise called Swept Up, and her affordable mortgage have brought stability to her life.

“I’m working for myself. I know my budget and what my budget allows me to do,” she said, “because [my monthly payment] isn’t that much to try to cover if you’re working on your own. That security let me know I could manage to save and experience things. I’ve been able to travel. I’ve been able to take my kids places. At the level of income that I’m currently at, it’s given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I was giving all of that to a landlord or an expensive mortgage. It’s given me freedom to do things that I normally wouldn’t if I was at a job and I knew I had to cover a [bigger] mortgage. This freedom, I can’t put a price on it. It’s given me plenty of opportunities. That’s the blessing about it.”

Habitat’s First-Time Homebuyer program provides homebuyers with a 0% interest mortgage and no financial down payment–partner families work 350 hours of sweat equity during their time in the program instead. At the time of closing, the monthly payment for a Habitat homeowner–which includes mortgage principal payments, homeowner and flood insurance, property taxes, and an annual termite contract–comes in under a third of the homebuyers’ monthly income. For Ashley, this was a major change from what she was paying in rent in 2010, and though the payment has gone up as insurance prices have risen, it’s still well under the average cost for a 3-bedroom home.

“I cannot tell you how many times people are blown away at how much my mortgage is compared to what they’re paying for rent in this city,” she said. “My mortgage is three times less what my friend’s is. I think my mortgage note was at one time cheaper than my car note. If I wanted to, I could pay my mortgage out for the year, and I would be comfortable.”

But it’s more than just the impact on her life in the present. She’s also looking to the future for her children.

“I wanted something to pass down to my kids,” she said. “I didn’t want them to have to hurry up and get things out of the house because this house isn’t ours. I want them to be able to maybe use it as an investment, or keep it if they wanna stay and cherish those memories that we created. And creating memories, that’s important to me. So much goes on in the world, but we know this is our home. This constant won’t change. So that stability is unmeasurable to me.”

If you are interested in becoming a Habitat homeowner, click here.