Editor’s Note: The interview was conducted through an interpreter.
Angela and Crispin Cortez began to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County in hopes to have their home built in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the process was halted. After three and a half years, they started to move into their new home in Osage Place, a neighborhood built by Habitat for Humanity, on March 30.
Crispin works at Uptown Cafe and Angela is a stay-at-home parent. The couple immigrated from Toluca and Michoacán, Mexico, 12 years ago, and said they love to live in the tranquil town of Bloomington. The couple moved because Crispin wanted an opportunity to live a better life, and Angela was the last in her family to be living in Mexico, so she moved to be closer to her sisters and parents in Illinois and Indiana.
In order to gain ownership of a home built by Habitat for Humanity, the homeowners needed to volunteer for 250 hours either on a construction site or the discount home improvement store, ReStore, and take homeowner readiness classes. These classes include neighbor etiquette, tax information and saving tips.
Families who apply for a Habitat for Humanity home must meet three criteria, Habitat for Humanity Development Director Lindsey Boswell said. They must need housing, be able to pay the mortgage and are willing to partner with Habitat for Humanity. To apply, families must attend an informational meeting and make 25%-80% of the county’s median income, and their income and family size determine their monthly mortgage payment rate.
The couple said it was nice to spend more time with their children, but it was stressful to try to keep the kids occupied during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, Crispin could not work, so the family was struggling to pay their bills. They said the only reason they could make their payments was because of their savings. They were also uncertain about renewing their lease on their townhome they were living in while waiting for their house to be built by Habitat for Humanity.
The townhouse they rented with three bedrooms and one bathroom cost $1400 a month. They expect to pay $1100 on their mortgage for their new home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Crispin said he felt very enthusiastic to be building their own home on the construction site. Angela said she’s excited to have an extra bedroom in the house and finally own a home. They said they enjoyed putting together the framework of the house and putting drywall in.
Angela said she’s looking forward to owning a home that she can make decisions about, such as rearranging furniture and hanging decorations on the walls. This house has been a dream come true and they enjoyed being a part of building their home, not only buying it, they said.
Crispin and Angela have three sons, Bairon, 10, Milan, 8, and Chris, 5, who attend Summit Elementary School. They had been asking for photos of the house every day during construction since they were too young to work on the construction site. The boys took yoga classes in the Monroe County Public Library as a part of Habitat for Humanity.
Boswell said the ideal timeline from applying to moving into a home is 18 months. Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County usually builds eight to 10 houses a year but only built four during 2020. Crispin and Angela are the last family to receive their home from that year.
“It's definitely a testament to their perseverance that they stay encouraged and motivated and interested in everything throughout that whole time,” Boswell said.
She said Habitat for Humanity makes the large community of Bloomington feel very connected. The housing market in Bloomington has high barriers of entry, she said.
“We are consistently one of the least affordable places to live in the state, so Habitat helps to provide increased housing supply and opportunity,” she said.
The organization had about 800 volunteers last year. She said 85% of them worked on the construction site and 15% worked at the ReStore, in the office, on committees and on the board of directors.
Boswell said Habitat for Humanity usually has one or two homes under construction at a time. They build homes in Bloomington on random plots of land, if affordable, but often buy a large plot of land and build an entire neighborhood.
They are currently building their third neighborhood, Osage Place, on the southwest side of Bloomington. She said they’re currently building the sixth and seventh homes in that neighborhood and have built 220 total in Monroe County.
“I certainly love working with our families,” Boswell said. “Especially whenever you get to see a family go from the beginning to the end of the program and get to see the impact that it can have on them and their families.”