My Home is: Two Habitat families share their definitions, stories
Home is a concept many take for granted. After all, it’s easy to say “there’s no place like home” when there’s somewhere to kick off shoes, rest and recharge in a safe, stable, and decent dwelling. If those components aren’t available, what then? To many people living in Greater Springfield, the concept of home is nonexistent. The heat doesn’t work or the house is poorly insulated. The roof leaks. There are rodents, mold, and bugs sharing the residence. Neighborhoods are littered with drugs, gangs, and violence. Gunfire and vandalism are common. It’s certainly not a place to decompress, let alone allow children to grow up.
To further complicate the problem, purchasing a home through traditional means is simply unattainable, particularly for families of limited income. That’s where Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) comes in. Greater Springfield Habitat believes everyone deserves simple, decent, affordable housing. Period. Habitat aims to close racial wealth disparities and help families create generational wealth. Since its inception in 1987, GSHFH has constructed 74 homes throughout Hampden County.
“Living in our own space, I finally felt freedom, and the security we have now. I don’t have to worry where we’ll live next,” said Emma Febo-Garcia, who purchased her Springfield home in 2016. Prior to that, she lived in an apartment in Springfield’s North End. It was infested with mice and the landlord was unresponsive to Emma’s complaints. Crime and prostitution ran rampant. Emma’s car was broken into one night, despite being parked in the driveway. Her then 15-year-old son was propositioned by a prostitute while at the park next to their apartment. Emma knew that was no way to live. These days, she speaks of the flooring she updated and the deck she added in the back.
Juan Gonzalez sits at the kitchen table of his newly-purchased Holyoke home and says home is a place where he, his wife, and their two young children can “feel safe, be themselves, have dinner together, and celebrate good times.”
Without Habitat, that reality might still just be a dream. Five years ago, Juan had a workplace injury, several surgeries, and two strokes. At 33 years old, he received a permanent handicap placard. His wife Ireydiza left school to become the sole breadwinner and primary caretaker of Juan and their kids. Plus, the apartment was difficult for Juan to maneuver. The master bedroom, which was cold in the winter, was on the second floor. Juan had trouble getting up the stairs. Additionally, the neighborhood was dangerous. Gunfire and drug activity were common.
Now, Juan and Ireydiza’s 11-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son pretend their bedrooms are apartments. They’ve put numbers on their doors – “74” for her as a tribute to their last address; he randomly chose “988.” They insist on paying their parents $5/month for rent, which will be returned to the kids as vacation spending money; and are learning about budgeting and want versus need.
“We had rented for so long – all of our lives,” Juan said. “We didn’t want to be renting our whole life. We wanted to do better for our kids.”
Now, their kids may grow up thinking “there’s no place like home.”
To learn more about Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatspringfield.org