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It feels different to own


Jeff Simon lives on a tidy cul de sac in Bogalusa, Louisiana, with his wife Shawn and nine-year-old daughter, Jeliah, a math and reading whiz who dreams of being a nurse when she grows up.


Shawn and Jeff Simon had paid the deposit on a rental house for their family in Bogalusa, Louisiana, when Hurricane Katrina came along and destroyed it.

They and their young daughter, Jeliah, moved in with Shawn’s father for a few months while waiting for another rental house to be repaired. They had their sights on buying the rental, in fact, until the owner took advantage of the hurricane-induced housing shortage and raised the price dramatically.

“We wanted to own it,” said Shawn. “But when he told us how much he wanted for it, we changed our minds.”

Beyond sales prices, rents also increased by 100 percent or more in the wake of Katrina. Before the storm, rents averaged between $300 and $400 a month; after, $700 rents were the norm.

The Simons applied for homeownership with Washington Parish Habitat for Humanity. In May 2008, they moved into a new home on a quiet cul de sac in Bogalusa, where their back lawn slopes gently to a pond brimming with bass. Deer make frequent morning forays through the yard.

“We were truly blessed to get this house,” Shawn said. “Landlords could basically charge whatever they wanted to charge. People had to have somewhere to live.”

The Simons’ monthly mortgage payments are $400–$200 less than their previous rent.

“And it feels different to own,” said Jeff. “You appreciate it more.”

Shawn has been a nursing assistant at Louisiana State University Medical Center for 10 years, and Jeff is a construction worker. Shawn usually works the night shift, so she keeps an eye on the close-knit neighborhood during the day.

“We have one little thief in the neighborhood,” Jeff said. “There’s a little dog that will steal shoes or anything else left on porches.”

“He’s stolen three pair of my work shoes,” Shawn said, laughing. “And occasionally he actually brings things—that he’s stolen from other neighbors.”

The Simons’ 9-year-old daughter, Jeliah, said she plans to follow her mother’s path and become a nurse. A quiet, studious girl, she is a math and reading whiz. Her two stepbrothers, ages 20 and 21, and 16-year-old stepsister live elsewhere but visit often.

On the concrete walkway leading from the street to the Simons’ front door, an etched message reminds all who enter: “Truly blessed by God.”