Jewlekrystal with her children Zalariah and Honor: Ithaca, NY

Tell us about your family! Where are you from? How did you end up in the Ithaca area?

I came up from NYC with my father when I was 14 and finished school here in Ithaca. I graduated in 2009, and moved around to Boston, and Syracuse, before settling back in Ithaca. 

Prior to your Habitat build, where else have you lived?

NYC, Boston, Syracuse, Ithaca area (Dryden – Poet’s Landing, and then Overlook apartments).

What do you do for work?

I am a custodian at Greater Ithaca Activities Center, which is a great community non-profit. I work with teens as a mentor during the day as well. 

Have you attempted to purchase a home before? Ever tried other programs or tried to purchase on the regular market?  How did that go?

Never tried to purchase in the regular market, but I applied for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services purchase assistance and was denied. I called you the next day!

How did you discover Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins County (TCHFH) and why did you seek their help?

I heard about the program through another Habitat homebuyer. 

What are you most looking forward to about owning a house?
Painting my walls whatever color! When you have lived all your life in rentals, you can’t do anything personal, so the littlest things matter. But of course also the equity, and building generational wealth and passing it on to my  kids. Plus having my ten year old watch the process brings me even more joy. 

What is the process of working with TCHFH like?
For the little time we’ve had so far, it’s been a breath of fresh air. Everything I’ve been praying for is coming around. 

Has it been different than you expected in any way?

I had no expectations. I love a new journey! 

Do you have tips for others in need of a home or starting the process with TCHFH?

Don’t be afraid to apply! You just never know. And don’t get discouraged about the timing of the process. Also, there are Habitat affiliates all over the country, so wherever you are, just apply!


Sarah along with her children Isabella and Cedar: White Hawk, NY

Tell us about your family! Where are you from? How did you end up in the Ithaca area?

I am from Tennessee, but my family has been here in Ithaca for 7 years. We moved here to be close to my son’s father while I was pregnant with him and my daughter was 5. My kids are now 6 and 12. 

Prior to your Habitat build, where else have you lived?

We have lived in Richford, South Hill, Spencer and Newfield. Prior to Ithaca area, I lived in FL for 15 years, San Francisco, TN, and Minnesota. 

What do you do for work?

I practice acupuncture and bodywork.  

Have you attempted to purchase a home before? Ever tried other programs or tried to purchase on the regular market?  How did that go?

Before I had children, I was able to work full time and manage my own business. I saved up and bought my own 550 sq ft. condo when I lived in Florida. It was right before the subprime crash, and condos that had sold for $120k at top, were then *not* selling for $25k. I lost everything I had put into the down payment, which was my entire life’s savings. 

Once I had my kids, income ability dropped to about half of what it had been. Buying was always just out of reach. Every time I felt like I started to catch up, the market heated up and sped away from me again. I knew I couldn’t even try to buy, and that I just needed to keep finding ways to up my income until I could try. It seemed impossible. I looked into buying mobile homes in a trailer park but wasn’t approved for a loan for that. 

How did you discover Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins County (TCHFH) and why did you seek their help?

I had known about and admired Habitat for decades. When I first came here, I looked at the TCHFH website to see if I could get involved and maybe sometime qualify for a grant and become a homeowner. At that time, though, they were not very active and it didn’t seem like anything was happening, so I let go of the idea. 

One day last year, I turned my Facebook page on and saw an announcement for a HFH build at White Hawk. I had been “following” White Hawk on Facebook because it was my dream community, but I had long given up thinking it would be possible for me. The event was literally happening about a half hour from when I saw the post, so I grabbed my kids and headed out!

What are you most looking forward to about owning a house?

I am really looking forward to giving my kids a stable home. Being low end renters means we end up in not so desirable houses (terrible rodent problems, basement “bedrooms” that are unlivable because of mold, water that is nearly orange with iron from the well, mentally unstable landlords or property managers who harass us), which we find out after we have lived there for a few months. My daughter has lived in 13 homes in her 12 years. Renting makes me always feel at the mercy of someone else. Owning a home really gives a lot of emotional, locational, and financial stability. I am not explaining this very well, but I can’t emphasize enough how owning gives both physical and intangible sense of shelter in a way that feels life changing. 

I am looking forward to having three bedrooms instead of two, so that our living room isn’t also my office and my son’s toy room, and so my son won’t have to share a room with his mom when he is 8. Also this will be the first time I have had my own bedroom in 13 years. 

I am really looking forward to deepening into the White Hawk community, deepening my relationship with the land there, and doing lots of edible perennial gardening like berry bushes, nut trees, etc. 

What is the process of working with TCHFH like?

I worked especially with Liz for the first year, and she has been amazing. I am part self employed and part employed, and that means there is a LOT of paperwork for mortgage applications. I am ashamed to say that paperwork things are really, really challenging for me. I wanted this house so badly that I trucked on every day. Liz was so helpful, understanding, and encouraging. My first mortgage application in 2021 was turned down, but they said I would probably qualify in 2022. Liz kept in touch with me and any time I had a question or even just wrote to ask for encouragement, she was right there for me. 

Even the rules Habitat has such as counting the time someone babysits my kids while I am volunteering towards my hours – that is so incredibly thoughtful and whole-family aware. Of course I need childcare and of course it’s a freaking struggle to make that happen, but that sort of behind the scenes struggle is never seen or valued in capitalism. Also, the ability to designate a friend or partner as my other main volunteer to count towards my hours… as a single mom, I feel like for the first time, my complicated situation is being seen and accounted for without me even having to ask. 

Has it been different than you expected in any way?

Yes! I feel like I have been treated with SO much kindness and warmth! I feel overwhelmed with luck as far as how incredibly kind everyone is, and the still mind blowing eventuality that I am going to have a house for my children and for my retirement!


Do you have tips for others in need of a home or starting the process with TCHFH?

I would say the tip is TCHFH itself. Everyone there is amazing. Also, be patient and think long term. You may not get something this year, but be unstoppable. My taxes changed enough in one year that I was approved the next year. 


Taylor & Seth with their children Leo, Jonnie, Charlie and David: Ithaca, NY

Tell us about your family! Where are you from? How did you end up in the Ithaca area?

Seth and I have been married for 15 years. We have 4 boys Leo (11), Jonnie (9), Charlie (7) and David-Michael (20 months).

I (Taylor) am originally from Naples Florida, Seth was an army brat and has lived everywhere from California to Germany. We have friends in Ithaca and often came to visit but it wasn’t until our oldest son Leo (who has Down syndrome) completed his first year of schooling in Florida that we decided we needed to be in place where he could be included and seen as more than just his extra chromosome. Ithaca was the obvious choice. 

Prior to your Habitat build, where else have you lived?

As a family we have lived in Virginia and Florida, prior to moving to Ithaca.

What do you do for work?

I stay at home with our 4 children and Seth is in landscaping.

Have you attempted to purchase a home before? Ever tried other programs or tried to purchase on the regular market?  How did that go?

We have not ever tried before (aside from looking at the housing market it felt like it was an unachievable dream. 

How did you discover Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins County (TCHFH) and why did you seek their help? 

My friend originally suggested us looking into it, at the time we had three (now 4) growing boys and were quickly outgrowing the place we were renting. It was important for us to stay in the Ithaca school district for our oldest to continue to get the services he was receiving. However, any house we looked at that would fit us (either rental or for sale) were all priced out of our budget. 

What are you most looking forward to about owning a house?

We most look forward to be able to give our kids a home. Not just a place we are renting for a few years but a house that can be filled with memories and pictures on the wall.

What has the process of working with TCHFH been like?

Everyone has been so kind and willing to help.  Years ago (in another state) I (Taylor) received WIC for my third child and remember being talked to as though I was less than. It was a humbling experience and left me feeling very judged. Working with TCHFH has been the complete opposite, not a single negative experience.

Has it been different than you expected in any way?

I think we underestimated how long the process would take. However, it was completely understandable given we were trying to complete this process during a pandemic. 

Do you have tips for others in need of a home or starting the process with TCHFH?

Be patient and flexible things take time (especially in a post Covid world), know everyone wants this for you as much as you do and are all working hard to help you achieve this dream. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them have any questions/concerns. And try as hard as you can to stay organized with your paperwork.