Julia had just finished pulling weeds in the yard of her Habitat home in the Jordan neighborhood of North Minneapolis. Sitting on nicer furniture than she's owned before and practically surrounded by potted plants, she said she never thought she'd love yard work so much.
"I haven't had to do that since I was a kid," she says with a smile. Recent spring rainfall meant she had her work cut out for her, which is just as well – she's got plans for the yard. Her yard.
"I've become like the plant lady," Julia laughs. Her reward to herself for moving into her new home with her three-year-old son was to buy a few houseplants to brighten up the place. "Now I have about 40. I just love being outside more. It makes me think back to my childhood."
Julia's path to homeownership wasn't always easy, but it's the story of a person proudly living up to her own expectations with the help of Habitat's resources, guidance, and volunteers.
From homelessness and one-bedrooms to a home of her own
Julia closed on her Habitat home on November 17, 2020. Up to that point, she'd known "home" in a lot of different ways. She was homeless for about two years in high school; later, she moved from lease to lease without plans to settle down. That changed a few years ago.
"Ever since I left college, I knew I wanted to buy a house," Julia says, even if she couldn't see the path there. Student loan payments brought her credit score too low to qualify for a mortgage. Instead of getting closer, it seemed like the dream of homeownership was getting farther away.
"I lived like a minimalist," she says. "Like, 'I don't know when I'm going to move next.' Even as an adult, I still had that feeling." No matter where she moved, it wasn't really 'home.'
But Julia leaned into it. She never wanted to get used to the feeling of apartment life. She wanted to stay "uncomfortable" as a renter, so she wouldn’t let go of her dream of having her own place. "Nowhere felt permanent enough to buy nice furniture," so she didn't. "I just kept thinking, 'I can't wait until I have my own space.'"
Making moves toward mortgage readiness
"If I'd never gotten things together to buy a home, I think I'd still be there," Julia says – back in the one-bedrooms with cheap furniture, finding a new place to live with her son every year. Losing her job in 2017 while fostering her niece convinced her to turn things around.
"The shock of losing a job, of not having savings… it flipped my whole mindset," she remembers. "I said, 'I've gotta get it together. I've got kids depending on me. Where do I see myself in the future? Where do I see my son? Is this where I want both of us to be?'"
The answer, of course, was "no." She felt like she had a responsibility to herself and to her young family to find a place they could grow. With her small savings, she contacted Prepare + Prosper, a Twin Cities tax preparation and financial wellness nonprofit serving low-income families, to help her get started. Her credit score was first on the list. "It put me in a place where homeownership was a possibility," she says.
What it looks like to get ready to buy a home
With home prices in the Twin Cities escalating, Julia looked to Habitat for Humanity for a home she could love and afford. She's honest about having known "very, very little" about buying a home before she started looking. One-on-one financial coaching with Habitat helped her fill in the gaps, like getting a home loan and budgeting for maintenance and closing costs.
Julia says, "The first-time homebuyer class is what encouraged me most." That class taught her how all the pieces of homebuying readiness fit together. And she really did her homework: "Even though I'd read every portion of the website, the instructor was able to give me many more answers to my questions."
By the time she started looking at Habitat homes in early 2020, her credit score – her "biggest hurdle" – was already high enough to qualify her for a TruePath Mortgage through TCHFH Lending, Inc., Habitat's wholly-owned mortgage lending company. Things were coming together for Julia's family – and it all became real when she saw her home for the first time.
Seeing home for the first time
Inside the Jordan house that would become her first home, Julia saw more than wood and drywall. "I can see my peace here," she remembers thinking. Even before she knew it would be hers, she could clearly envision her life in this home: she saw her son playing in the backyard; she saw backyard hangouts with family and friends; she saw garden boxes brimming with flowers. After years of nomadic living, Julia saw home again.
With the pieces in place, things moved quickly. Her mortgage application was accepted in May and she closed on the home in November. She handled some seasonal flooding in wintertime with everything she'd learned from homeowner education, and the Maintenance Fund she established with Habitat is helping her cover regular maintenance and repairs. She credits her new "big folder of maintenance tips" for helping her keep her home safe and comfortable.
Clearing the way to a happy home life
Julia recognizes the care that went into building a home for a low-income breadwinner like her. "There's a lot of gratitude there," she says. "That's why I'm always willing to share my story. My coworkers know how much I make" as a community services advocate in the Twin Cities, "because they get paid the same," she adds with a laugh. "Whenever they ask how I afforded a house, I tell them it was Habitat."
Julia also wants people to know that there's "no guilt or shame" about something as common as homelessness or poverty. "Most people are experiencing some amount of it," she adds. "We are still worthy of being treated like humans."
With the comfort of home and the confidence of ownership, Julia is finding time to live more of the life she wants to live. "I'm just looking forward to making [my home] my own outside," she says. "It gives me a lot more space to be creative. Space where I can sit back and enjoy my kid playing in the yard" – and it starts with those weeds.