Donnetta LeGrande and her daughter Michelle, 18, are preparing to pack up their Westview apartment and move into a newly refurbished home in Northeast Baltimore's Better Waverly area. But first, they have to help clean the house.
LeGrande is the first person in the country to benefit from a new national partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Nehemiah Progressive Housing, two nonprofit groups that provide housing for low-income families.
Members of the two organizations joined LeGrande in beginning to gut her future home in the 2900 block of Independence St. yesterday, as Nehemiah's $1 million contribution to the joint program was announced, marking the partnership's national beginning.
The gutting ceremony and announcement featured Hal De Cell, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes as the keynote speaker.
Habitat for Humanity fixes houses and arranges no-interest loans for low-income people to buy the homes. The group seeks grants from individuals, corporations and religious organizations. Nehemiah Progressive Housing builds and sells housing for needy people, and has built homes in Nevada, Indiana and Florida.
In Baltimore, the Chesapeake chapter of Habitat for Humanity identified LeGrande as an eligible homeowner, and Nehemiah chose the house to be renovated.
"We decided to partner with Habitat for Humanity because we both share the same mission statement: to provide affordable housing for low-income residents," said Bobbie Singh-Allen, Nehemiah director of government and community relations. "There is a group of people left out there that need help. We're a hand-up program, not a handout program."
Nehemiah, based in Sacramento, Calif., will provide half of the cost of the home, $27,000. Another $10,000 has been provided by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and $7,000 came from individual donors. The groups need $10,000 more.
Though LeGrande's will be the only home the partnership fixes in Baltimore, Habitat for Humanity's goal is to build 12 houses this year and 20 houses next year in Better Waverly.
Habitat for Humanity has completed 36 homes in the community.
"Our target neighborhood is Better Waverly, because it has a real strong sense of community and has wonderful housing stock," Habitat for Humanity executive director Jenny Hope said. "It is a unique blend of brick rowhouses."
LeGrande, 43, a counselor for the Department of Social Services, is eager to move into the first home of her own, which may happen as early as September.
"I cannot wait -- it's a dream come true," said LeGrande, who first learned about Habitat for Humanity in her junior year at Morgan State University, where she graduated in 1997 with a degree in social work.
"I decided to give them a call and go to a meeting," she said. "They checked my credit, I presented my case to a committee, and here I am. I never thought I'd be a homeowner because I've got student loans. I was a single mother striving to get ahead, and now just look."
One of Habitat for Humanity's principles, Hope says, is the idea of "sweat equity," which gives homeowners a greater sense of ownership and maintenance experience in lieu of down payment. They must put in 300 "sweat hours," tearing down walls, drywalling, installing and painting.
Homeowners contribute toward the closing cost, but get a 0 percent, 15-year mortgage.
"We're going to go in and tear it up," said LeGrande. "It's hard and dirty work, but it's fun. I'm actually working on my own home. It's a mess now, but they do awesome work. They make a regular house into a castle."