On Dec. 3, 2018, Tiffany Wallace was able to pick out the color of her kitchen cabinets—a rich espresso. Her new home will have hardwood floors, tan carpets and marble granite countertops.
It’s a process that many new homeowners go through every day. But for Wallace, the choice was extra meaningful because she will be the owner of the 250th home built by Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County, now in its 33rd year.
In 2017, Wallace and her three children, ages 18, 16 and 10, had been living with her sister and her two children in their mother’s three-bedroom house. Not long after their mother passed away, Wallace came home and a for sale sign was on the door—the house was in foreclosure. Wallace says she had to do something. She learned about Habitat for Humanity from a parent at the daycare where she worked. After she applied, she was approved for a Habitat home that December.
Kevin Smith, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity New Castle County, says Wallace’s home is part of the organization’s focus on rehabilitating in five areas: The East Side, Northeast and South Bridge neighborhoods in Wilmington, the Del. 9 corridor and Middletown.
“We are invested in looking for property where it’s strategic to make change—blighted property, land where we can make multiple houses,” he says. “We don’t spend more than $15,000 on a vacant lot.”
In Wallace’s case, Habitat cleared the lot for brand new construction, with half the work performed by volunteers and homeowners expected to perform 250 hours of work themselves—what Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.”
After taking home renovation classes, Wallace’s duties included painting, installing cabinets and putting up sheetrock. “It’s humbling because you get to see the effort and everything you put into this house,” Wallace says.
Smith says that the homeowners being included in the process is an empowering process for them. “Eighty percent of homebuyers are women, single household,” he says. “Many of them do not know how to use a circular saw. They learn not only how to build the house, but to take care of it.”
Smith says one obstacle to Habitat’s goals for improved quality of life and better living conditions for Delawareans is that many people don’t understand the organization’s process. “The families apply for our mortgage. If they are approved, they go through financial training, maintenance, and good neighbor civic engagement,” he says.
Wallace, who now works as a behavioral specialist, is looking forward to moving into her new home. She says that she and her family drive past it every day. She has advice for people who are skeptical about applying for a Habitat home.
“It may seem scary because you’re so used to hearing “no” all the time. At Habitat, it’s not like they’re giving you something. You’re creating memories and they’re like family,” she says. “It’s a wonderful program for families that don’t have families and it’s a push for people who need that push.”