Habitat for Humanity celebrates its 1,000th home in San Antonio
Two Decembers ago, 7-year-old Raelyn Marie Guevara came home from Roy Cisneros Elementary on the West Side and handed her mom, Reyna, a neon green Habitat for Humanity flier she had picked up at school.
“Mom was like, ‘Oh, we can’t ever qualify for one of those things,’” said Raelyn, now 8, on a bright, busy Saturday morning. “And I was like, `Oh, come on, Mom, just fill it out. You never know.’”
Raelyn was beaming as she told the story, with her grandmother beside her, just moments before she got to see for the first time the Habitat home that was built for her, Reyna and a second child on the way all because she nudged her mom two years ago.
The single-story, 3-bedroom house, is one of 14 located in Lenwood Heights, a new neighborhood off Acme Road on the West Side, that Habitat dedicated Saturday, celebrating the 1,000th home that the San Antonio chapter — the oldest Habitat affiliate in America — has constructed since its founding by a local Presbyterian pastor’s wife, Faith Lytle, in 1976.
Hundreds of Habitat volunteers, full-time construction workers, future homeowners and well-wishers filled the tidy neighborhood yesterday, as crews of Valero volunteers wheeled out new sod to front lawns, swept driveways and mingled with real carpenters doing measurements for cabinets.
“I owe this all to my daughter,” said Reyna Guevara, a lab technician at Baptist Medical Center, as she eyed the new kitchen in her new 1,060-square-foot house. “To watch it all go from a blank slab to this is amazing. I had a hand in building the porch. I put up siding. And I had no experience in construction. Now I know how to use all these saws,” she giggled, “but I don’t know what you call them.”
“I am just overcome,” said Guevara, who attended Memorial High School, “that people who don’t even know me and my daughter would come out and do something like this. It shows there is still hope and love in this world. I grew up on the West Side and it has always been known for drugs and violence. I want to be a part of changing that. I want to see it thrive.”
The now-familiar formula of Habitat for Humanity, made famous by its most celebrated volunteers, former president Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn, combined the progressive Christian faith of the Carters and fellow-Georgian millionaire Millard Fuller, with corporate volunteer programs and the need for affordable housing throughout America to build one of the most successful charitable foundations in the country. Under Fuller, who was eventually fired over disputes with the Habitat board, the group built more than 175,000 houses in 100 countries.
In San Antonio, according to communications director Stephanie Wiese, Habitat works with low-income families making about $28,000 a year who promise to provide at least 300 hours of “sweat equity” in the building of the home. Habitat provides 20-25 year mortgages with zero interest and at no profit to Habitat, which estimates it costs them about $80,000 (with no federal funds) to build their basic 3- and 4-bedroom homes, not including land and infrastructure. Guevara’s monthly mortgage payment will be about $550, including insurance and taxes, said Wiese, who added that they’ve had only a 1.5% foreclosure rate.
The homes dedicated on Saturday, Wiese said, are part of 167 houses Habitat will build on 26 acres it bought from Bethel United Methodist Church on Acme Road.
Habitat of San Antonio builds about 40 to 55 homes a year, using hundreds of tons of donated materials that are often high-quality, energy-efficient items, such as impact-resistant shingles. “During all our hailstorms,” said Wiese, “none of our Habitat homes had any repair problems. These are not starter homes.”
Surprisingly, there is not a wait-list for the homes. Wiese said families are qualified for their loans as homes are constructed, which, with good weather, only takes about two months.
“Our first house in San Antonio took us two years to build,” said Wiese, who has been with Habitat 21 years. “We’ve learned a few things. Mainly, that you have to have great volunteers — Valero has worked with us for 10 years — and you must remain a grassroots organization that’s really tied to the community.”
“And I hope, “ said Guevara, as she explained both her pride of ownership and parenting, “that my little girl will tell other families about this program and how it can change their lives.”