Building together for 40 years

Since incorporating on February 11, 1983, thousands of local adults and children have benefitted from AAHH’s affordable Homeownership and Home Repair Programs. Each home build and home repair project has been an exercise in partnership. Volunteers, donors, advocates, homeowners, and ReStore supporters – folks of various religions, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and political beliefs – unite around a shared vision and build homes, communities, and hope.

We are grateful to all who have been part of the journey thus far. And we invite new partners to our work. There is still much work to be done, and it will take all of us.

Haley Brockwell, Asheville native and mother of two growing children, works as a medical assistant. Despite working full-time, the region’s skyrocketing housing costs have kept her from securing affordable, stable housing for her family. After investing 200 hours of sweat equity, Haley purchased the 40th Anniversary House and now pays an affordable mortgage. She  finds refuge in her own home after a long day of caring for others, and her kids have a safe space to live, learn, and grow.

Impact Evaluation

Leading up to the 40th Anniversary, we surveyed our existing homeowners to measure the impacts of homeownership. “What I found in the data and when talking with homeowners is that the benefits of affordable homeownership are profound, and compounding…The dreams that people tell us about in their applications – dreams of safety and security, of opportunities for growth, of building a strong financial foundation– those dreams are being realized,” shared lead researcher Jessica Auer, Ph.D.

Here are a few homeowner stories that illustrate the outcomes highlighted in the Impact Evaluation.

Tikisha and son Terrell

By Jessica Auer, PhD

Tikisha Mwetta has an expansive and irrepressible sense of service to the community, developed over a lifetime and sustained and accelerated over the last two decades as a Habitat homeowner 

Though she lives in a Habitat-built community in Oakley, you might find her after work five miles away at Southside Community Farm (SCF), a BIPOC-led urban farm in one of Asheville’s legacy neighborhoods that works to advance food sovereignty. “I’m not the best at gardening,” Tikisha laughingly admits, but she’s found a niche there. Though she gardens some, runs errands, and helps with general upkeep, her primary contribution is as a host. When SCF has community events, tours, or educational programs, or even when somebody is coming to work in the garden for the first time, it is often Tikisha who shows them around. The true gardeners, Tikisha jokes, “like to talk to the plants, not to the people.” She has a deeply warm and welcoming demeanor, making her a good person for the role. She’s also got a costume – a lettuce leaf-  and a lot of vegetable jokes: “How do you fix a broken pizza? With tomato paste!” “Why do you never tell secrets in the garden? Because the corn has ears and the potatoes have eyes!”  

Tikisha’s involvement with the farm came about organically, if you don’t mind the pun. Though she shortchanges her skills in the soil, she keeps her own garden as well. She feels connected to the earth and a responsibility to care for the land. One year, after she gave the Farm a donation around Christmas time (a salad of “greens”), they invited her to come back. She’s been hosting there ever since. 

Her time with SCF also stems from an abiding commitment to justice. When she talks of her work there, she tells her jokes, but she also speaks of the injustices wrought by food deserts. She has always been involved in the community, always been committed to community service. “It’s not a new concept, and it’s not something that I’m forced to do or think about,” Tikisha says with a shrug in her voice, “It’s just who I am.” She sums up her philosophy in deceptively simple, but powerful, terms: Having been through things herself, “I realize what it’s like to not have. I would want everybody to have some of these basic rights and things that I’m now blessed with.” And her energy for the community never seems to wane. Now that she’s retired from her second job at Home Depot, she’s looking ahead to different volunteer opportunities on her now-free Saturdays. 

Her neighborhood is certainly a beneficiary of Tikisha’s spirit. She has nurtured relationships with many of her neighbors and spent countless hours maintaining the community spaces. After one neighbor in another development a few streets over noticed her out tending to the shared spaces, they struck up a plan to build a Little Free Library (LFL) on the corner, which the two of them now maintain. And, true to form, Tikisha has made her neighborhood’s LFL extra special by adding a few twists of her own –  kid’s activities stocked in the back, canned food and bottles of water, and a fresh herb garden on top. She even sometimes brings fresh veggies from the farm.

A commitment to justice and equity is a family value for the Mwettas. “Our house has always been active towards understanding things in the community,” Tikisha says. As a high school student, her son Terrell was a deeply engaged young man – involved in teen court, serving on student government, volunteering or interning with local government officials, and even writing a senior project about gerrymandering. He went away to college in Oregon (a journey made feasible in part due to Tikisha’s affordable mortgage) and eventually took up a role as a staffer for Senator Merkley of Oregon, focused on housing and transportation. 

He has since heeded a calling to focus on transportation issues in New York City, informed by his own experience with transportation inequities. Growing up, he saw that transportation was an issue – that everybody needs affordable transportation. “Just like Southside is a food desert, Reynolds [the school district where they live] is in the transportation desert,” Tikisha explains. If kids from the neighborhood don’t have access to a reliable vehicle, they rely entirely on the school bus to get them back and forth. Doctor’s appointments, after-school activities, even missing the school bus – any change to the routine risked leaving kids stranded. It is challenges like these which Terrell is now working to tackle. As Tikisha explains his work, it is clear that Terrell has developed an incisive perspective on inequality and nurtured a passion for justice throughout his life. It is also clear that that is a family legacy. 

Homeownership did not create Tikisha’s sense of community responsibility. But, hopefully, it offered her the space and security to live those commitments to the fullest, and to cultivate that same love in her son. 

Kelvin Rouse And Granddaughter

Kelvin Rouse & granddaughter

By Jessica Auer, PhD

For Kelvin, a seven-year homeowner, the timing of his new home meant everything. It saved him from a significant rent hike that would have taxed his family tremendously. He was already paying too much for a space so cramped that his daughter had to live apart from them. But, only a few short weeks after move-in, he would find that the timing was even more fortuitous than he had imagined. It was then that he discovered “a little present that I had to take care of” – a precious grandchild. She’s lived with him since she was a month old.  

His joy at being able to raise her in his own home is palpable. He thinks about some of the people at the apartment complex where he lived previously, still there, still trying to find better places. He might be back there too; stuck in a place he could barely afford, now more crowded than ever, because living anywhere else was somehow worse. Yes, he was suddenly embarking on a new, unexpected (grand)parenting journey, but he was doing it from a safe, affordable, energy-efficient home. 

The feeling of connectedness to their neighbors is one of the big differences he sees between his son, already a teenager when he purchased his home, and granddaughter’s childhoods. It was hard to build community in the apartments. “Not many people stay there,” he remembers. His son would make friends and then they would move and he would have no one to go outside to play with. In their new neighborhood, things are different for his granddaughter. The area is not perfect, of course. People move. But, she has friends that can all play together. She will grow up surrounded by love and friendship – a dream come true. 

Kelvin has really leaned into the responsibilities of homeownership. As the head of a four generation household (his granddaughter, son, and mother live with him), he has a lot on his shoulders. He handles it all with an enthusiasm borne of many years of hard work. He is proud of a rolling rack he made for the kitchen that fits perfectly between the cabinets and the refrigerator. He is proud of the yard and never tires of maintaining it. When people incredulously ask him, “don’t you get tired of mowing your yard all the time?” he thinks about how he has the freedom to grow things and spend time outdoors. Instead of trying to play in a barren “backyard” filled with clotheslines, he sends his granddaughter out to the swing he built for her. His own home may come with new responsibilities, but they are well worth it to Kelvin. 

That sense of responsibility has extended to the neighborhood more broadly, where Kelvin is now the Treasurer of the Homeowner Association (HOA). Being part of the leadership of an HOA isn’t always easy. People have different ideas about the role of the organizations, how involved neighbors should be in each other’s lives, and even whether it should exist at all. But Kelvin believes the importance of the HOA – in the little things like cutting the grass in the common area, and the big things like city-inspected drainage areas and insurance for the common areas. And while he cares about making good fiscal decisions for the neighborhood, he is also enthusiastic about fostering community through shared experiences. Thanks to the commitment of folks like Kelvin, his neighborhood experience is full of what scholars call “social capital”: there are ice cream events, Halloween block parties, and hot dogs and hot cocoa get-togethers.  


Katrina Harrison And Pr

Katrina Harrison with Construction Services Director, Paul Reeves, after she shared her story at a recent Board of Directors meeting

By Jessica Auer, PhD

Katrina Harrison has been in Asheville all her life. She is now a mother of four children and a grandmother of eleven. Growing up, she lived mostly in the Erskine-Walton area in the Livingston Heights Public Housing apartments. Though she remembers the community in the neighborhood and apartment complex fondly, she had always wanted to own her own home. By the early 2000s, she was raising three children and struggling financially. “I just didn’t know how it was going to come about,” she recalls. She must have applied to Habitat at some point, but her recollection is of Habitat finding her. “It was out of the blue,” she remembers. Pat Bacon, former Habitat homeowner services director, and Diana Geter, Habitat homeowner and homeowner services committee member, came to her home to chat with her one weekend. Katrina remembers that conversation as a bombshell. “How do you feel about owning a house? Come see me on Monday.”  

When Katrina showed up to the office that Monday, Pat had already pulled her credit report and was ready to help her come up with a plan of attack. This was not easy. She was a single mom on a limited income and was already, as Katrina put it, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But they thought she was a good candidate and their faith in her built her own confidence. And, she was driven. Katrina is self-proclaimed “the type of person that if I want something and I see it, then I’m going to go for it and I’m going to go 100%.” Her first task was to pay off the small credit stuff, doctors’ bills and the like, and build up some momentum before tackling some of the bigger stuff. Communication was key. If something popped up on her credit report, Pat would call and touch base with Katrina: “what can you do to clear this up?” Still, though Pat walked her through it, Katrina was the one who had to do the work. It took “some sacrifice,” she puts it somewhat mildly, but that sacrifice ultimately paid off and she was on her way to homeownership. 

Stepping into the responsibilities of homeownership has paid dividends in unexpected ways. Katrina says that, as a homeowner, she began to “do research and start asking questions” about things in her home, particularly things that affected her comfort and costs. She learned about the importance of changing your air filters every three months, of having your HVAC serviced every year. You begin to “keep your eye on the electricity more,” she says. After nearly twenty years, they recently got a new roof installed. “You invest in things that are important,” Katrina says. These maintenance responsibilities, though sometimes costly, ensure that her investment is protected, the energy-efficiency of her home maintained. 

Through the hard-fought process of repairing her credit and accepting the mantle of homeownership, Katrina says that her entire financial mindset has been transformed. Thinking back, “credit didn’t matter to me,” she remembers, “because my mindset was this is just the way it is.” But being a part of a program, surrounded by people who believed in her, changed her perspective. “It became important to me to make sure that I didn’t have bounced checks. It became important to me that my credit was outstanding.” And once she got on track, it became profoundly important to her to stay on track. Of course, she admits it is not always easy and sometimes she juggling stuff here, juggling stuff there. But the responsibility and joy of homeownership meant that she grew up financially. Before, the sense that “this is just the way that it is” sometimes left Katrina feeling helpless. Now, focusing on her long-term financial health reflects both a greater sense of empowerment over her own life and a more hopeful outlook on the future.  Instead of “this is just the way that it is,” she thinks “this is the way I want to do things. This is the way I want to live.” 

The Angel Family

The Angel Family

By Jessica Auer, PhD

Though they are still young, Danyelle and Logan Angel have already been through the housing wringer. After becoming young parents and striking out on their own, they first moved into a small trailer that was so poorly insulated that they could feel the breeze when the wind blew. Sometimes, they stayed with family in the winter because they did not have heat. Their next move was into a slightly larger 1964 model trailer they bought for $1,500. The roof was falling in and the insulation was somehow worse than in the other trailer. There was no heat or air conditioning, and the electrical system was always threatening to go out. Once, a transformer blew right outside their window after they plugged something in.   

After some time, they finally moved into one of the rent-subsidized apartment complexes in Asheville. The conditions there were far better than they had been in the trailers, with reliable heat, air, and electricity that did not worry the Angels about potential house fires. There were still issues, like occasionally exposed wires and mysterious mushrooms growing from the baseboards. But, by comparison, the place felt idyllic at first, a big step up.  

Over time, concerns about the environment would emerge. The train tracks ran right behind the complex, and as the kids got older, the Angels worried about the hazards. The sight of used needles was increasingly common. They learned to ignore a single gunshot but take notice if there were a few in a row. They sometimes encountered people who were noticeably intoxicated right around where the kids wanted to run and play. These incidents left the Angels in a constant low-level state of panic. As they get more distance from those experiences, they begin to see themselves as the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. In the midst of it, they were focused on getting through. Once free, they realized, “That’s not normal. It’s almost just like that was a sort of bad dream.”   

From the vantage point of the present, so many years down the road, they can tell these stories of frustrated dreams and narrowly averted catastrophes with humor and dry wit, just “figuring things out along the way,” they say with chagrin. But for two young people with first an infant and eventually three young children to care for, it was a difficult series of events.  

It has only been about two years since the Angels moved into their Habitat home. They describe the stage they are in as “baby steps.” Still, certain changes are palpable. The family’s health has seen noticeable improvement. The kids play outside and breathe fresh air. For all that they were concerned about outdoor safety at the apartment complex, there were invisible indoor dangers as well, including the air quality and mold. They dealt with a constant cycle of illness and became convinced that something in the apartment was making their children sick. After consulting the doctor, they were told to buy a particular type of air filter, but the complex told them that they had to put in a work order and get permission. Nothing seemed to ever get done. Reflecting on the change to their health since moving into their home, the Angels dryly remark, “Well, we haven’t had pneumonia in a couple of years.” The Angels said that almost overnight, the family stopped getting sick in the same way.  The ear infections stopped. The colds do not grow into something more serious. There are many reasons why their health might have improved (it could be the reduction in stress, they noted), but the Angels attribute the general sense of healthfulness to being in a better environment.    

The cumulative effect on Logan and Danyelle’s mental health has been profound.  “We were not living,” the Angels remember, “we were barely surviving.” It was an endless series of Sophie’s choices. Do you pay to keep the lights on or fill the gas tank to get to work? Danyelle would spend hours sometimes scouring the resources in the community to bridge those gaps – the food pantries, the clothing closets. Slowly, they have begun to slough off the buildup of worries and stressors and approach life with a lighter heart. Two years in, and the Angels have finally come out of the dark tunnel of survival mode, not having to, as they put it, “go and hunt for food or hunt for a place to live or clothes.” Once they obtained the security of housing, everything else started falling into place. They are now able to take care of parts of their lives that previously they were not. Now, their attention can turn to the bigger question, a question of possibility, “What are we doing to do now with our lives?” 

Bassham Crossroads Church House

Bassham family’s wall raising

By Jessica Auer, PhD

Asheville Habitat was a lifeline for Brigitte Bassham. After going through a divorce, Bassham and her young children moved into a little farmhouse out in Weaverville. It was a “cute little house,” Brigitte remembers, but it was pretty isolated. While on the face of it, the home was affordable, living costs weighed heavily on her pocketbook. Poor insulation paired with oil heat meant the winters were financially brutal. Bassham remembers a few very cold winters in 2009 and 2019 when oil prices skyrocketed. The price increase along with the 100 gallon minimum requirement left Brigitte making difficult choices every winter. “I’m not going to let my kids be cold,” she said. It often meant that they had to do without something else.   

Like so many other residents of Asheville, Bassham was stuck between unaffordable costs on the front end (rent) or unaffordable costs on the back end (utilities). She thought that maybe she would have to move somewhere else entirely. Bassham did not want to pack up her kids and move them in the middle of their education, and she did not want to give up the job she loved as a teacher. Therefore, twelve years ago, she took a leap of faith in applying for Habitat, which she now sees as particularly fortuitous. “To see what is going on in the housing market,” she says, “I know I couldn’t afford anything, not even rent, and be somewhere decent and safe.” When Bassham asks herself, “Where would I be?” she means that both figuratively and literally.   

Instead of spending the last eleven years searching for affordability, Bassham has been building her financial foundation. Upon moving into her Habitat home, her total monthly housing costs went down by almost half, largely based on the house’s energy efficiency. On a month-to-month basis, this was a vital release of pressure. And in the winter, when oil tank bills would usually eat up every spare dollar of her paycheck, it was a night and day difference. The small, supplemental check she received from the school district every winter always seemed to go straight to filling the oil tank in her old home. The first year in her Habitat home, suddenly that check could go to something else. She recalls when it dawned on her and turning to her children to say, “Remember, I had to use this for oil, and now we can use it for Christmas or put it aside for repairs.” Repairs. Christmas presents. Plan for the future, and enhance their lives.   

When challenges arise, as they are wont to do, Bassham’s affordable mortgage means that she can better prepare to meet those challenges. Whereas life lived paycheck to paycheck made handling such difficulties awful, Brigitte said, “Now I feel like, okay the fridge breaks, the washer breaks, I’m okay. We can figure it out. It’s not catastrophic.”   

Bassham is now more than a decade into her Habitat homeownership journey. Now, when she thinks of the future, she does so through the lens of possibility rather than anxiety. 

Bevans Family With Warren Haynes

Bevans Family With Warren Haynes

By Jessica Auer, PhD

Michelle Bevans needed no convincing about the benefits of homeownership. As a former homeowner during her marriage, she long felt that she was throwing away her money on rent, but in the early 2010s, she faced a housing market of degrading homes and high prices. “Everything needed a whole lot of work. Everything was substandard,” she said. Or prices were so high that she was going to end up paying more for a mortgage than she was paying for rent. She was lucky to have found a relatively affordable rental at the time – $800 for a three-bedroom modular home in West Asheville. There were issues with oil heat, rats, and mice, but it was “a decent place,” she says. But even with a “decent” place at a “pretty good rent,” she was still not living within her means. Costs were simply too high.  

With some gentle prodding from friends and coworkers, she overcame some insecurities about Habitat and applied. Even now, it is a profoundly moving experience for Bevans to think about the love that she has that is embodied in her house. Her wall studs are scrawled with well wishes from folks. Bevans remarks on the countless volunteers who “gave up their days” to build her home, an expression of love and support from the community writ large. Bevans still feels that love now, all the time. “It is difficult to explain to people who have not experienced it,” Bevans says, “just what it’s like to accept all that. It’s big. It’s really, really big.”   

For Bevans, the impact of affordable homeownership on her finances was immediate and profound. Her bills went down about $300 per month and her utilities were a lot less expensive thanks to the energy-efficiency of her home.  Taken together, those cost savings meant that she could do more for her kids or, put another way, her kids could do “a lot of things that they would have never been able to do.” That included opportunities for personal development, changes to their basic quality of life, and what at the time seemed like luxuries. Bevans says, “We could go out to eat, we could play sports.” She could make ends meet and still have room to give her children opportunities to learn, to grow, and to find joy. Reflecting on the greater sense of financial freedom homeownership has offered her, Bevans sums it up in a way that is, fittingly both prosaic and profound: “Just to be able to take care of yourself and your family and feel like you have freedom to make choices besides just having to pay [for the necessities].”  

Her children are thriving, each in their own way, and she credits a lot of their resiliency and groundedness to the sense of home, both physical and emotional, she was able to provide them. Her daughter has just left home to begin her freshman year at NC State. Isabella is a real “go-getter,” says Bevans. She has won scholarships to cover most of her college costs. She played four years of varsity sports in high school. She even helped plan prom! Her son is not as interested in school, but Bevans says, “He has the most important thing to me, [which is] social emotional well-being.” He has a core group of friends in the neighborhood that support each other, and he is developing interests outside of school. The most important thing to Bevans is that both of her kids are going to be fine. “They could go out in the world today and be okay,” she says, “And I’ll say this for sure — a lot of that has to do with having the stability of this home.”   

When asked about what Habitat homeownership has changed for her, she responds succinctly but powerfully: “Oh, everything. My whole world changed.” Bevans says that when families pay too much in rent or lack opportunities to build financial stability, “it impacts everything – what you’re able to do with your own life and what your kids are able to do.” After some reluctance to apply herself, she has become a fierce advocate of the Habitat program. Two dear friends of hers have recently achieved homeownership through Habitat, including one in the new Aging in Place units. She remembers encouraging and encouraging them to apply and then talking them through the process. “Everybody I talk to, I say, just apply and see what happens because you never know,” Bevans says. Maybe everything in their life, too, is about to change.