Donna Hines family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Donna Hines family


Donna Hines and her two sons, Chelton, 17 (center), and Chaheed, 13, have lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing high-rise for 12 years. “I think my kids deserve better,” Hines said. Soon she will have a new three-bedroom Habitat for Humanity house in Ivy City, which the family will share with Hines’ 16-year-old nephew, Kelly (left).

©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


‘This is what I’ve been working for’

Donna Hines, 34, has been a medical office manager for 10 years in Washington, D.C. She and her two sons—Chelton, 17, and Chaheed, 13—have lived for 12 years in a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing high-rise.

“You’re never safe,” Hines said, citing a high crime rate, a rodent infestation and unsanitary surroundings. “I think my kids deserve better.”

Their new three-bedroom Habitat house is being built in D.C’s Ivy City as part of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. By the time the house is finished, Hines will have a new baby daughter. Her 16-year-old nephew, Dayquan Kelly, will also be living with them.

What will a house mean to this close-knit family?

“Oh, Lord,” Hines said, struggling for words. “It will mean a place for my kids to be raised and come home to.”

Chelton will be on his way to college next year, and his cousin Dayquan will follow the next year. Chelton aspires to be a doctor, and younger brother Chaheed wants to be a math teacher.

Hines runs a tight ship at home, giving the kids regular chores and keeping the two-bedroom apartment as clean and livable as possible. Ultimately, though, she knows she can’t protect her family from all the problems inherent in an aging, high-rise public housing complex.

“There have been a few murders—in the alley right here, in the stairway, in the hallways,” Hines said. “It’s always something. Always something.

“And you can hear mice running in the hallways. If we didn’t have our cat, Bella, we would have mice in here. We’re a very clean and structured family, but it doesn’t matter when you live in a place like this. You just have to fend for yourself.”

Hines applied to Habitat on the advice of Kiona Mack, a neighbor in public housing who works in the leasing office and had recently been selected to be a Habitat homeowner.

“She said, ‘You need to be in a house, too,’ ” Hines recalled. “She gave me the number to call, but I was like, ‘I don’t know. People who work as hard as I do don’t usually get help. You have to be extremely poor or extremely wealthy to really get somewhere in D.C.’

“But she said, ‘No, trust me. Habitat is different.’ ”

Hines and Mack attended homeowner classes together, and will soon be living as neighbors in Ivy City.

“This is what I’ve been working for,” Hines said. “I just think my boys deserve much better than this cramped apartment and this living situation. If they’re exposed to something a little more positive, a little more space, new people, new positive people … it will make a big difference.

“I see big changes, good changes coming.”