When the first walls went up on the Perez-Albornoz family’s new house in Tempe, it was a new beginning in so many ways.
Four years earlier, the family left behind the only home they had known in Venezuela for a different life in the United States. Their journey had not been without struggle and now, homeownership represented a fresh start.
A place for 18-year-old Eladio Jr. to study and pursue his goal of becoming a physician. A place for his parents, Eladio Sr. and Daisy, to relax after a hard day’s work. A place to celebrate holidays with family and friends.
A place to dream of a better future.
Grateful for blessings
So as the walls of their new home rose to the sky, the family – along with city representatives and volunteers – offered a blessing. With a Sharpie in hand, they wrote prayers and messages of thanks on the wood framing. They wrote and wrote, smiling and crying.
“We were just mostly thinking about what we’ve been through and what we’re going to accomplish,” Eladio Jr. said. “I wrote mostly ‘May the peace and the love come in the house, and all the blessings through God’.”
“This isn’t just a house, it’s a home,” he said.
As the Perez-Albornoz family marks six months in their new home, they are giving thanks for blessings big and small. A quiet spot to sew. A kitchen window that perfectly frames the sunrise. A long balcony from which they watch the comings and goings of their neighborhood.
Across the way, new homes are rising as part of the Habitat development and the sounds of construction crews at work often pierce the air. Volunteers move from task to task, with the shared knowledge that with each stroke of a paint brush and buzz of a table saw they are helping move another family closer to homeownership.
The Habitat development at 1937 E. Don Carlos Ave. is the first of its kind for the nonprofit organization.
The City of Tempe purchased the property near McClintock and University drives in 2007 using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. With an eye toward creating more affordable housing, the city later partnered with Habitat to create a unique development that calls for three-story townhomes with a modern look and feel.
The first five families moved into their homes in June; a sixth home is unoccupied for now. Four new homes are currently in progress and another four will begin construction in January.
The nonprofit will start work on the final four later in 2018. In all, the infill development will have 18 units that overlook Alegre Park.
Under the Habitat model, families who qualify pay for their homes with a no-profit loan and a down payment in the form of hundreds of hours of “sweat equity.” The latter means that families physically have a hand in building their own homes.
Dreams come true
For the Perez-Albornoz family, homeownership seemed unlikely. They decided to leave Venezuela as the country faced increasing political and economic instability, and join other relatives living in the United States.
The family made a new life in a small apartment in Mesa. Daisy landed a job at Intel, working in “clean rooms,” and Eladio Jr. began attending Highland High School. He took up a new-to-him American sport, football, and started playing the piano. Eladio Sr. battled health issues that limited work options.
Most importantly, Eladio Jr. began learning English. He knew this would be the key to the family’s success or failure.
“I had the responsibility to learn,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Be strong. Be strong at all times’.”
The family struggled each month to pay rent and bills. Then fate intervened.
As Eladio Sr. and Daisy sat in a nighttime class to tackle English themselves, they fretted over money. The instructor happened to mention Habitat for Humanity. And a dream became reality.
The family considered different locations but settled on Tempe for its central location. Over six months of Saturdays, they dove into the sweat equity part of the deal.
“The one thing we thought was amazing is that all of us, we got to volunteer,” Eladio Jr. said. “You would think that’s boring. It was actually so fun just building your own house, and having the privilege to have all those people working with you.”
They captured the construction in dozens of photos, now displayed on heart-shaped cardboard cutouts in the Perez-Albornoz home.
Calling Tempe home
On a recent Saturday, the family is all together. Daisy beams that she is a manager overseeing five employees at Intel, and Eladio Sr. is enjoying his new work as an Uber driver. Their son is completing his associate’s degree at Mesa Community College, with plans to transfer to Arizona State University.
They are eager to give a tour of their home. There are three tidy bedrooms on the third floor and a studio bedroom, complete with a cozy patio, on the first floor. Spread out over the second floor is the kitchen, dining room and living room. Modern décor matches the style of the townhome’s architecture; whimsical LED lighting in the kitchen adds pops of color.
The home also includes a laundry room and two-car garage.
For now, the walls are mostly bare save a framed varsity letter from Eladio Jr.’s high school football days that hangs proudly in the teen’s bedroom. Daisy points that out, along with the desk where her son studies. A mother’s pride fills the room.
The tour continues with moments like these, and Eladio Jr.’s words – “This isn’t just a house, it’s a home” – ring truer with each step.
“You know the difference,” he said. “A home is that warm feeling, of a family living together, caring for each other, helping each other, having the blessings of sitting down at our table and eating dinner together.”
For more information on housing assistance options in Tempe, visit the Human Services Department at www.tempe.gov/housing or call 480-350-8950.