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It feels good to be a homeowner

 

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Chaquidra Martin and her five-year-old daughter Laila stand on their porch. They moved out of a rundown apartment and into this new Habitat home in 2009.

   

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Chaquidra Martin was a 23-year-old mother with an infant daughter, living in a rental house in Metairie. Shortly before landfall, they fled to Grand Prairie, Texas. The people were warm and supportive, she recalls, but the pull of her native New Orleans was too great.

Within months of the storm, Martin and baby Laila had returned, living in a rental house owned by a relative on a battered corner of New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward. Martin, who has a master’s degree in sociology, had been a library associate at the University of New Orleans for years before Katrina intruded on a lot of life plans.

Now, five years later, Martin and Laila are happily settled in a spiffy house built in partnership with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. The literal distance between the old rental and the new house is only a couple of blocks. But figuratively, the two are a million miles apart.

“It feels good to be a homeowner,” Martin said. “It’s a different responsibility than renting, but I don’t mind doing extra when it’s mine.”

There is still much work to do in the Upper 9th Ward. The house next door to Martin’s is still abandoned, as are many in the surrounding block.

“It’s kind of hard to see every day,” Martin said. “You look to the side, you look out front, and see abandoned houses. But it’s getting better.”

Martin works as a clerk for the federal court system in New Orleans, and she recently started a monthly book club among her co-workers. Laila is a very talkative 5-year-old who likes to play baseball and soccer, ride her bike, play computer games and read. Her current pick: “Sleeping Beauty.”

Martin’s monthly mortgage payment, plus insurance, is less than half what she was paying in rent for a substandard apartment. That math is life-changing, allowing her not only to furnish her house and put Laila in a good prekindergarten program, but also to look ahead—for the first time in a long time.

“We’re working on a backyard now,” Martin said. “And we’re getting prices quoted for a deck.”