Voices of South East: First-time homeowners contribute to community growth and wealth building

In 2019, Loretta Taylor, her daughter, LaPria, and her six-year-old grandson, Elgen, lived in the same apartment complex in Fort Wayne.

Each Loretta and LaPria had long dreamed of being homeowners. But it wasn’t until last year that they realized those dreams could soon become a reality.

When the two learned about Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fort Wayne’s renewed focus on building and rehabilitating homes on the city's South East side, LaPria was encouraged to apply for a home by a woman at her son's daycare.

“I wanted a place for him to run around,” says LaPria.

LaPria Taylor outside her new home in South East Fort Wayne.

She was accepted into the homeownership program in February 2020. Her mother, Loretta, applied later that year and was accepted in November. 

In recent years, Habitat has shifted its focus to building homes in South East Fort Wayne, largely because of the need in the area, and statistically, the more homeowners who live in an area, the more prosperous those neighborhoods and people become.

“It has been well demonstrated that safe, decent, and affordable housing has positive impacts on families, children, and communities," says Andrew Gritzmaker, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fort Wayne. "When children are healthier and better educated, they go on to lead promising and productive lives. It is all of our responsibilities to ensure every child grows up in dignity and has a chance to actualize their life’s full potential. It’s not just economically sound; it is imperatively humane.”  

LaPria Taylor works inside her new home in South East Fort Wayne.

About a year and a half after LaPria submitted her application, she was able to show her son their new home.

“As soon as he walked in the door his eyes lit up,” she says. “They were big. He screamed and was singing and making videos. He didn’t want to go back to the apartment. We brought an air mattress and his toys over. Elgen hasn’t wanted to leave ever since.”

LaPria Taylor outside her new home in South East Fort Wayne.

Loretta and LaPria say the application process was easy. For families to qualify for the program, they must first be at or below area median income, based on numbers released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The organization considers families who haven’t owned a home in the last two years and have the ability to afford a home based on family size. Payments are no more than 26 percent of the family’s monthly income.

To qualify for a home, owners must also be willing to partner with Habitat to get the job done. That could mean helping out at the job site or at ReStore, a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center that sells gently used items at a discounted rate.

Loretta Taylor helps renovate her home in South East Fort Wayne.

Loretta and LaPria quickly learned they would be up against some challenges while trying to build new homes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the temporary shutdown, the Habitat team could not be on-site, which caused delays for new builds and pushed back timelines for completion.

Additionally, LaPria was injured at work and had to undergo surgery, which limited her ability to fulfill Habitat’s partnership requirements. Still, she did whatever she could to help the volunteers, including cleaning hats from home until she was back on her feet.

“I just did it,” LaPria says. “If I want to do anything, I just do it. (Habitat) was willing to work with me despite the injury.”

“She was just determined,” says Loretta. “She wasn’t going to let her injury get in the way.”

Loretta Taylor helps renovate her home in South East Fort Wayne.

Inspired by her daughter’s determination, Loretta applied for Habitat for Humanity’s program later that same year.

“I’m almost 60,” says Loretta. I didn’t know if I should buy a home, but it was something that I want to do. I realized age doesn’t mean anything. I have two children and four grandchildren. I want them to come over and enjoy themselves for holidays and family functions. It was difficult to do that in an apartment.”

Loretta Taylor outside her new home in South East Fort Wayne.

The family grew up very close to where their new homes are in South East. Both Loretta and LaPria say they knew they wanted to come back to live in the community.

“I know the area,” says LaPria. “I still see some people I grew up with, and now they own their own home, too. I feel great. I have no worries. There’s no drama. I’m independent. My son has a home that he can grow up in.”

LaPria Taylor outside her new home in South East Fort Wayne.

LaPria moved into her new home, which is just south of Petit on Smith Street, in August. Her mother, Loretta, should be set to move into her new home located near John and Creighton in November. The two will live about five minutes away from each other.

“A lot of people have a bad taste when they think about the South East side of town,” says Loretta. “Everyone wants their community and homes to look good. It’s about the neighborhood, making it a nice place to bring up your kids and have the feeling of community.”

Amidst the threat of gentrification, new neighbors, like Loretta and LaPria, who have previously lived in South East, are poised to support authentic, inclusive growth.

This story is a part of Input Fort Wayne's Voices of South East series, running from August-September 2021 and funded by the Foellinger Foundation. For more information, read the first story in the series.