Twenty years ago, Cassandra Taylor was renting a small duplex in Tyler that had just a bed, wall, kitchenette and very little space.
In 2000, her dream of becoming a homeowner came true thanks to a hand-up from Habitat for Humanity of Smith County and putting in some hard work herself.
Now, in 2020, after years of determination, Taylor’s 3-bedroom home on Cedar Street is paid off in full, and she can’t help being filled with both tears of joy and shouts of happiness.
On Wednesday, she came to the Habitat for Humanity of Smith County headquarters to sign the “release of lien” paperwork to show her 20-year mortgage payments were complete.
After signing the documentation, Taylor recalled the first time she saw Habitat volunteers working on homes across the street from the duplex she rented.
She started meeting the volunteers and that’s how she got involved in building houses for others in need.
“Once I got started, the process is what got me because I love helping others,” she said. “And so with me helping other people build their house, that kept my dream alive and to know that some day I’m going to get people to help me build my house. Once I kept that picture in mind, that was my goal.”
Part of the adventure of getting a Habitat home is the recipient must earn sweat equity hours, which means they assist contractors with the building process.
Jack Wilson, Habitat for Humanity of Smith County CEO, said the nonprofit has been helping people like Taylor obtain affordable housing since 1989. Habitat will work with banks to help lower costs for families.
Taylor’s home was the 23rd house built by Habitat, and now the organization is working on its 112th home.
“One of our missions is to build affordable housing for lower-income families who couldn’t really qualify for a bank loan,” Wilson said. “We’re really pleased for you (Cassandra) today to be signing that and have that all done. There’s not a lot of people that can pay off their mortgage and kind of go from there.”
Families who qualify to build and buy a Habitat home must live or work in Smith County for at least a year, meet income requirements, have the ability to make monthly mortgage payments and invest 300 to 500 sweat equity hours to build their home and others.
Wilson said he and the Habitat staff are happy to see families pay off the home they’ve earned.
“One of the sayings for Habitat across the country is ‘this is not a hand-out, it’s a hand-up,’ and it gives them the opportunity to really kind of change their lives forever,” he said.
For Taylor, the home provided a sense of stability as a mother of four and grandma to five. Prior to owning her house, she recalled her mother’s house being the only consistent dwelling.
“She set the example for us to have something for not just us but generations ahead of us,” Taylor said. “We’ve always been around family, but she always wanted us to be secure or be OK. And she kept it that way.”
Although her house provided consistency, the journey of making the monthly mortgage payments was not always easy. Taylor calls herself the “troubled child” for Habitat.
“When I first started the payment was comfortable. We could do it. I could do this no problem, no problem,” she said. “But years and life went on, the payment wasn’t so easy. But it wasn’t a time that God didn’t provide.”
Taylor, who now works as a caregiver by day and provides cleaning services by night, remembered a time when she was making less than $20 every two weeks giving care to one client for a weekly four-hour shift.
“So when I got my check it was less than $20 every two weeks, but God was still providing because out of that came my cleaning business that I have still to this day,” she said. “The more I stayed determined I’m gonna make this house note no matter what. If I’m late, I’m going to call you.”
No matter what the circumstance, Taylor worked to ensure she kept the house of her dreams.
“The determination was just there. So maybe another problem child will come along that I can teach them,” she said. “They’ll work with you, but you got to do your work.”
Her advice to the person wanting to become a homeowner is simply sign up for an application.
“Make your dream come true. It’s reachable, it’s doable and if you have the vision to want somewhere stable for your family,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade Habitat for nothing. I’m Habitat’s most favorite advertiser because I love Habitat for Humanity.”
For her, this Thanksgiving season is very special as her goal is finally complete. Moving forward, she hopes to expand her kitchen and do some gardening in the yard.
Her home is surrounded other Habitat homeowners, who have become a family.
“Even though my home is in one place, I have neighbors in other parts of the city,” she said. “We’ve come to know each other, and it’s the neighbor that’s not just next door to you.”
Those interested in learning more about Habitat for Humanity of Smith County can visit the website at smithcountyhabitat.org.