Cecelia Thomas noticed a small crowd of people outside a house under construction at 3009 Warsaw St. Tuesday afternoon as she returned from the grocery, and got excited.
“I dropped my food at home, and ran back up here to find out what was going on,” she said. “I still get excited when somebody moves into a house.”
While nobody was moving into the unfinished house, Thomas got there in time to watch Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry announce that the city’s Community Development Division has awarded $600,000 in federal funds through the HOME Investment Partnerships program to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fort Wayne to build six houses in the La Rez, Oxford, and Poplar neighborhoods.
“Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home, which is why we are pleased to partner with Habitat for Humanity to create opportunities for families and individuals to become first-time homebuyers,” said Kelly Lundberg, Deputy Director of the City of Fort Wayne’s Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services. “This project will make a real impact in the lives of six families and help build a better and stronger Fort Wayne.”
Thomas was nearly overcome with emotion at Henry’s announcement. She was the first Fort Wayne resident to move into a Habitat home at the corner of Wildwood Avenue and Lafayette Street with her three daughters in 1987, the same year the fledgling agency was launched in Fort Wayne.
“My application was the most qualified out of 55 applications,” she said, “but I was the first.”
Habitat has come a long way since its founding in 1986. CEO Andrew Gritzmaker said the agency had been through a slack period, when the number of building projects lagged badly. That changed when Habitat and the city partnered in 2021 to build two houses on Drexel Avenue. This year, Habitat has committed to build 19 houses in southeast Fort Wayne.
Habitat homeowners work hard for their homes, Gritzmaker said.
To qualify for a Habitat home, homeowner incomes can’t exceed 60 percent of the area’s median income; they must attend financial education and homeowner classes, and they must commit to volunteering at least 50 hours of their own “sweat equity” to build their homes. They are responsible for making monthly payments back to Habitat, which pours the funds back into future building projects.
Henry acknowledged that greater Fort Wayne’s supply of suitable and affordable housing stock is sadly lacking, reflecting the country’s ongoing housing crisis.
“If you don’t have a significant amount of capital, you’re going to be in a difficult position in buying a house,” Henry said.
He said improving the housing stock will encourage continued economic development, and give potential business investors the confidence to bring their employees to a community with more available housing.
Thomas said she was happy to help out the agency that took a chance on her 35 years ago.
“This was a dream come true for me,” she said. “I’m still involved with Habitat. They have me come every now and then and do a speech to raise money for new homes, and every 200 houses, I get to present the keys.”
A Bloomington native, Julie Creek was a grant-writer/administrator, print journalist, editor, and freelance writer in Bloomington, Boston (MA), and Fort Wayne for 28 years, and later moved into higher education administration. She returned to journalism in early 2022 to work for the Collaborative. She is also a professional grant-writer and consultant.