When Jennifer’s marriage ended in January 2009, she was forced to start her life over from scratch, with her 7- and 3-year-old daughters in tow: new state, new job, no degree or nearby family to fall back on. Her first apartment flooded and the landlord did less than the bare minimum to make it livable again. The second place she rented was in a great location, but she quickly realized that with two small children, she couldn’t keep packing up and moving from rental to rental. She needed place of her own to call home for herself and her girls.
She knew there were organizations that helped people find affordable housing, and she started doing her research. At the time, she was working as a secretary in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and she learned about Community Home Trust through a newsletter she received there. Just a few months later, in August 2009, she moved into her very own home in the Pacifica Cohousing neighborhood in Carrboro.
And that, says Jennifer, quite literally changed everything.
“Because I have my home and it’s affordable and I didn’t have tremendous rent payments, I quit my job and went back to school. I had an associate’s degree so it only took me two years to get my bachelor’s degree. Once I had my bachelor’s, it was a little easier for me to move up in the workplace. I was able to get a temporary job on campus at UNC, and once I proved myself and had a reputation, I could advance.” In fact, just before the start of the pandemic, Jennifer got her latest promotion: she’s now the Director of Business Operations for the Center for Banking and Finance in the UNC School of Law.
“Having my home has meant so much to me,” shares Jennifer. “If I didn’t have the stability of my home, how was I going to raise my kids? I was able to get my degree, get a better job, and I still see myself advancing and growing. I still have more to do! And I believe having my home has really helped. It gave me a solid base to finally, for the first time in my life, feel like I can blossom and grow and learn and live a life.” Following in her mother’s footsteps, Jennifer’s older daughter is now a college student herself, and Jennifer says that’s one more example of what affordable housing can do: “it’s changing possible outcomes for the next generation.”
Jennifer’s home isn’t just any house, either. She looked at several after she was approved through Community Home Trust, but she says this house in Pacifica really met the needs of her family — and her heart.
Pacifica is a cohousing community, so neighbors are intentional about sharing meals, planning community events, and working together to maintain the property. Jennifer says it’s “like a built-in network of people who are friends.” The homes in Pacifica are also designed sustainably, which means that Jennifer’s home uses passive solar design, for example. The neighborhood is also very close to Carrboro Elementary, so her kids could always bike or walk to school when they were young. Jennifer, too, commutes by bike to campus, which is only three miles from her home — and that’s a lifestyle choice that Jennifer says has not only been convenient but has helped keep her healthy, too.
Since buying her home in 2009, Jennifer has stayed very connected with Community Home Trust, and in fact, she now serves on the Board of Directors. One project she works on at her job is the Director Diversity Initiative, through which she learned about the importance of ensuring that organizations’ boards more closely resemble the communities they represent. So when she was asked to serve on CHT’s board, she knew that it was the right way to help support the organization. Through her service, she is learning a lot, and she says she loves being a part of moving things in the right direction.
What does homeownership mean to Jennifer? She shares the example of her recent project rebuilding her patio by way of explanation.
“Building my patio was very emotional because it was part of the life I had before my divorce and had to leave behind: I did landscaping and designed patios. To be in a place where I can still do this and I can do it for myself was a really big thing for me. This is mine, and I can do these things and grow and become me, and I don’t have to feel like I have to live with someone else’s rules. I own this place. If I want to paint it, I can paint it. If I want to rip out the patio and redo it, I can do that. And my girls see me doing that myself.”
Jennifer chooses to serve on the board and has represented Community Home Trust as a spokesperson because she feels strongly that she would not be where she is today without the support she has received. She encourages others to pursue homeownership with CHT, too. “If your income puts homeownership out of reach on the traditional market, Community Home Trust is so supportive. You’re not on your own! You actually have this network of people, the staff plus all the other homeowners! If you’re looking for homeownership and this is where your income puts you, this is a fantastic, wonderful opportunity, especially if for whatever reason renting is not right for you.”