With the help of Austin Habitat for Humanity, Paula Tovar built a home and a future for her children and herself.
By Aisling Ayers, Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity
Paula Tovar and her two children lived with her parents for 18 years, unable to afford a home in the Austin housing market. As a single mother, she worked the night shift as a custodian and part-time as a housekeeper.
Then a coworker told her about Austin Habitat for Humanity and Tovar saw a path to homeownership.
“I found out that my friend went through the process and was able to get a home. So I thought that I would give it a try as well,” Tovar says. (As translated from Spanish by Austin Habitat’s lending supervisor, Silvio Cruz.)
Austin Habitat strives to end the cycle of poverty housing in Travis County because “everyone deserves a decent, affordable place to live.” The organization has built over 490 affordable homes for Austin families since their founding in 1985.
“We have our challenges living in an area that is so expensive to purchase a home in or even to rent,” Cruz admits. “We are very unique because we are still able to keep the home affordable even though the prices on lots are expensive.”
Austin Habitat relies on partners like Realty Austin, an independent real estate company that helps the organization acquire property lots at affordable prices. Yvette Boatwright, co-owner and broker of Realty Austin, says company realty agents give a portion of their sales commissions to building homes for Austin Habitat for Humanity recipients.
“The average median price of a home in Austin keeps climbing,” Boatwright says. “Therefore, your medium family income of $30,000 in Austin cannot afford the $400,000 average [home price]. So they keep getting pushed out to San Marcos and Bastrop.”
After Tovar applied for the program in April 2019, she attended information sessions and met with a housing counselor. In June 2019, Austin Habitat selected her as an official home recipient in the Scenic Point neighborhood in East Austin. Boatwright says the architect designed an affordable home that blended in with the neighborhood’s more expensive homes.
“We [were]all very excited, especially my daughter because when she was a child she dreamed of having her own room [and]her own house,” Tovar recalls.
Cruz says the program has 100-200 applicants a month. But many approach the program mistakenly expecting they will immediately receive a free home.
Recipients are chosen based on median family income levels and sources. Once accepted, they must complete 300 sweat-equity hours by physically working on their home’s construction or at the Austin Habitat ReStore, take a New Homeownership class and invest $3,000. They also must meet credit standards to qualify for a home mortgage.
“We are very excited to have our own place, because we didn’t think that we could do it,” Tovar says. “It was hard work. But we were able to do everything that they needed us to do to be able to purchase a home.”
The construction of the home typically takes 10 weeks, but the entire home-purchasing process can take up to one year.
The Hard Work Paid Off
“She is probably the hardest working woman, homebuilder, I have ever seen,” Boatwright says.
Every Wednesday, Tovar arrived to complete eight sweat-equity hours, even after working shifts at her other jobs.
“There were times where I wouldn’t sleep. I worked all night, and then I went and worked on my house all day,” she says.
It’s not all hard labor though. Boatwright says they try to bring fun to the build site every year. Their company videographer filmed a music video of Tovar and the realtors lip-syncing to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
“Paula really got into it,” Boatwright recalls. “The most memorable [picture]is her being up on the roof of her house, just painting over the side of some of the trim. She was not afraid of going anywhere or doing anything on her home.”
Tovar became an official homeowner this June. After over a year of dedication and diligence to purchasing a home for her and her children.
“The kids know that this is a future for them,” Tovar says. “Now they actually have something that belongs to them with a front yard and a backyard.”