Making themselves feel at home

Three single mothers who have for years struggled to find an affordable home will soon become neighbors and first-time homeowners. Each family, all Edgewood residents, will move into newly constructed town houses on a quiet cul-de-sac in Havre de Grace.

While their mothers are chatting about the earth-toned carpet, the convenience of an upstairs laundry room and the sleek kitchen counters, seven kids are ecstatic about having bedrooms of their own and are eyeing the second-floor alcoves for computers and TVs.


"I tried for 10 years to put my family into a good home in a great neighborhood," said Tina Dunker, whose two teenage daughters were already planning their bedroom decor. "Thank you, Havre de Grace, for welcoming my family to your family."

Habitat for Humanity, working with Pulte Homes, Mid-Atlantic Division, made homeownership possible for Denise Smith-Williams and her 14-year-old son, Justin; for Candice Brooks and her sons, George, 23, Trent, 16, and Derek, 10; and for Dunker and her daughters, Shannon, 16, and Brandi, 13.


"You have given us all something to be truly proud of," said Smith-Williams.

Pulte has, for the third consecutive year, participated in a nationwide building blitz, organized by Habitat, a nonprofit organization that provides home-ownership opportunities to families in need. Founded in 1976, the charity has built nearly 300,000 homes worldwide.

Habitat typically provides the land, house plans and the foundation and looks for a willing builder.

"Pulte gets the Habitat mission and understands our families," said Joann Blewett, executive director of Harford's Habitat chapter.

The homes bring to six the number that Pulte has built in Harford County for the organization, all during the annual blitz campaign.

"Three homes are remarkable, especially during this downturn in housing," Blewett said. "The economy is affecting everything and making it harder for organizations like ours to raise money. We really only had enough money this year for one home, but Pulte said it would build all three."

Nationwide, the blitz this year yielded about half of the more than 500 homes that were built in 2006, and Pulte was probably the only builder to construct three houses, Blewett said.

Pulte's crews and subcontractors built all three homes in a little more than four days. Even a lightning storm and a heavy downpour did not deter the blitz. Crews just pulled out tarps, lashed them to truck bumpers and side-view mirrors and continued hammering.


"There's no such thing as disaster, just a bigger challenge," said Dave Guttman, construction manager.

That same storm left construction supervisor John White's wife and two young children without electricity for two days at their home in Anne Arundel County. Even with those problems, he vowed to repeat the blitz next year.

What was a vacant lot on the morning of June 2, a Monday, became the site of a ribbon-cutting ceremony by 11 a.m. June 6. All three homes had passed final inspections and received occupancy permits the same morning.

"It was just amazing to see it all work," said Denise Brooks, whose sister, Candice Brooks, will soon settle on the four-bedroom model. "I drove by at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and they had the first level up. When I came by at noon, they were working on the second story."

To qualify for Habitat's programs, families must meet income requirements, have good credit and the ability to pay low-interest mortgages.

"I have been doing a lot of shopping for this house, but not so much buying," said Denise Smith-Williams, a 37-year-old nursing assistant at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. "I keep reminding myself that I will have a mortgage now. Besides, everything I need is right here."


Except for the red paint Justin wants for his bedroom, she said.

The families all must contribute "sweat equity," a component that requires participants to devote 400 hours to Habitat projects, excluding their homes.

"That was long and tiring work, but look at what we get in the end," said Dunker, 40, who works for an exterminating company.

During the ceremony, Candice Brooks thanked her son George for all his handyman efforts.

"George did most of the sweat equity for me," said Brooks, a nursing home dietary aide. "I have my first home, my first real house. I picked out my own colors, cabinets and tile."

Nichole Keys, who moved into a Pulte-built Habitat home in Aberdeen last year, told Brooks, "You will love your house. I feel so safe in mine."


Arlen Janet, vice president of Pulte, said the families have all earned the American dream of a home.

"The idea is to give back to the community in good times and bad," Janet said.