.Habitat Helping Humanity

Teacher who thought homeownership was out of reach in Santa Cruz received the key to her new home last Saturday

Sarah Speers, a fifth grade teacher and single mother of three, never imagined she would be a homeowner in Santa Cruz. 

“I never even hoped I would be a homeowner, absolutely not,” Speers says. “Not on a teacher’s income.”

The median listing of homes in Santa Cruz is nearly $1.5 million, and values have gone up 31.1% over the past year, according to Zillow. Generally, someone who can afford that house will need to be making between $100,000 and $222,000. For people earning between $48,000 and $78,000—someone like Speers, a teacher whose annual income falls in that very low income bracket for Santa Cruz—their options for becoming homeowners in Santa Cruz are limited.

It was a disheartening reality for Speers, who had resigned to be a renter for the rest of her life. So last year, when she randomly saw an ad for Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay’s homeownership program, she didn’t dare get her hopes up that she might be chosen and actually own her home. But fast forward to now, and she is getting the keys to her own three bedroom house on the eastside of Santa Cruz.

“I still don’t believe it’s real, it just feels like a dream,” Speers says.

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Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay builds homes that are affordable for low and very low income families. Families selected for the program purchase homes with a $1,500 down payment, and although the mortgage rates vary, the program commits to keeping housing payments set at 30% of applicants’ household monthly income. The homes are built by volunteers, organization members and also the prospective homeowners, who must contribute 500 hours toward building their home.

Speers was surprised to learn she met the qualifications: housing costs were eating up more than 30% of her monthly income, and her housing situation was overcrowded. For the past five years, Speers and her sons have lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Her eldest son just left for college, but when he was living with them, he would sleep on the couch. It’s a small living space with little privacy, Speers and her sons say.

“Now, the boys will all have space, be in a safer space, have that security that this will be forever. This is their home,” says Speers.

Speers received the keys to her new home on April 23, along with another family of four. In total, the program has built 57 houses for low income families. On the lot that Speers’ house is on, there are 11 other houses being built for prospective homeowners. Four of those houses are going to teachers. 

“Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges for us to keep our teachers in Santa Cruz County,” says Dr. Faris Sabbah, the County Superintendent of Schools, who spoke at the home dedication. 

Sabbah hopes to create a similar program as Habitat for Humanity’s, and find a way to build affordable housing for teachers. 

“It would be a game changer to attract new teachers, and keep them here,” says Sabbah.  

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