It's been one week since Tya Courtney moved into her new brick townhouse in Edmondson Heights and the smell of fresh paint is still in the air.
The a 27-year-old single mother is now a homeowner, thanks to a program offered by nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake.
For Courtney, being a homeowner is a chance to provide her 4-year-old son with the stable life she never had growing up.
Her entire childhood was spent traveling from one home to the next in foster care — a journey that took her to 100 different homes across Maryland, she said.
"This is stability — financial freedom. This is my son not having to go through what I did," she said.
Courtney said she found out about the homeownership program at Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake through Challengers Independent Living, a Baltimore City nonprofit that helps those between the ages of 14 and 21 who are in foster care transition into adult life. The program works with foster children to help them become self sufficient.
Many children in foster care, like Courtney, deal with abuse, neglect and abandonment issues.
"I felt like I was homeless — like I had no place to go," she said on her experiences growing up. "It was horrible. There was nothing that belonged to me."
"Every time I moved from one home to the next, I felt like it was my fault," Courtney said, adding that she attended 20 different high schools as a teen.
Now she has a place of her own
The program assisted her with obtaining a driver's license, attending college and getting her first apartment, among other things.
Wayne McNeil, founder and CEO of the program, was a "lifesaver", Courtney said. He co-signed for her first apartment.
"I was all alone and he had this great program to help children like myself. He just took me in," she said.
Courtney's path to homeownership was through a Habitat for Humanity program that provides loans to people who work and earn enough to pay for a mortgage, but not enough to qualify for a traditional bank loan.
"Many people have the misconception that we give away homes. To the contrary, our homeowners earn the opportunity to purchase their home with a 30-year, 0 percent interest mortgage set at 30 percent of their income," said Mike Posko, CEO of the organization.
"We rely on fundraising and corporate partners like the Bank of America to help us cover the debt, so we can continue providing the opportunity of affordable homeownership to deserving individuals and families in our area," Posko said.
Courtney's home was donated through a partnership with Bank of America and Habitat International that involves the revival of vacant properties owned by Bank of America.
Before they can purchase a home through the program, home buyers are required to complete 200 hours of community service. In exchange for their "sweat equity," the organization works with each potential home buyer to ensure they have the financial standing necessary to purchase the home and the ability to meet their monthly mortgage payments.
Volunteers spent 425 hours demolishing and replacing the heating and cooling systems of Courtney's newly renovated, two-bedroom brick townhouse.
Those systems are built to Energy Star 3.0 standards, energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that can help homeowners save up to 30 percent on their energy costs, according to EnergyStar.gov.
On March 28, a week after she received the keys, she is still busy unpacking and setting herself up.
"Look how nice it is," she said, walking into an upstairs bathroom. "The bedrooms aren't big, but they're plenty of space for the two of us."
Courtney, who works as a parole officer for Baltimore City, said she's worked hard to provide her son, West, with a better life than she had, and is thankful to have a place where she can raise her son.
"We're in a good, safe community," she said.
Courtney said she gave her son a key to their new house as a symbol of their life together.
"I told him, this is not my house — this is our house and it feels great. It's just us," she said, smiling at her son.
Additional information about Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake can be found online at: www.habitatchesapeake.org.