In the spring of 2007, tears were shed, voices were raised, and hugs were shared. That was the moment Kelly Atkin discovered she was selected as a new homeowner through Payson Area Habitat for Humanity (PAHH).
PAHH volunteers Lois and Ivon English gave the young single mom the good news, which birthed a whirlwind of new adventures for Atkin and her daughter, Sage.
Atkin learned of PAHH and its homeownership opportunities from her former babysitter, Cindy Campbell, who lived in a PAHH house. Habitat provides homes for low-income residents in Rim Country, relying on donated labor and materials and special loan programs to make the homes affordable.
After months of consideration, Atkin hand delivered her application to the PAHH office in January 2007 and waited.
"Because I am a single mom, I didn't think I was going to qualify," said Atkin, who works at Longevity Plus, a health food and supplements store.
Six months later, after making it through the application cuts, Atkin received news that she and three other families had been selected as homeowners.
PAHH is a nonprofit organization that helps provide low-income families with home ownership opportunities. It combines the efforts of homeowners, donors and volunteers to provide affordable housing for families whose household income is less than 60 percent of the average in the area. The average Rim Country income for a single person is about $32,000 and the average for a family of four is about $46,000. Sixty percent of the average income works out to about $19,200 for a single person and $27,420 for a family of four.
However, the average home in Payson costs about $220,000 -- which would require about twice as high a mortgage payment as the people who can qualify for help from PAHH could normally afford, according to estimates from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
PAHH has built a number of new homes for people in Payson and also worked with the town to develop affordable housing solutions. For instance, Payson has in several cases asked developers of high-end subdivisions to help make sure the town still has a broad work force by making donations of land and materials to PAHH, which then uses those donations to get more working people into their own homes.
The program targets families living in substandard conditions. That includes people living in too small a space, to those forced to stay with friends and relatives.
Atkin said she's glad she took the chance on applying and urged others facing the same struggle to do the same. After meeting PAHH's general requirements, the new homeowners are required to invest 300 to 500 hours of unpaid labor earned by attending PAHH meetings, aiding in construction or other PAHH-related events.
Atkin's new home is in Phase One of the Longhorn Village Townhomes at the corner of Longhorn and McLane roads. Crews have already laid the foundation, so Atkin was able to have her wall raising ceremony in February.
"We wrote blessings on each family's wall frame," said Atkin.
Fortunately, she already knows her neighbors -- the three other Habitat families also working on their new homes. Since the four families are future neighbors, they are encouraged by PAHH to work together and communicate regularly to create community harmony.
Atkin was assigned a volunteer mentor to guide her through the steps of owning a home and to update her on attending meetings, events and PAHH workshops.
With its scenic setting and slower pace of life, Payson was the ideal place for a new start for Atkin.
As a single mom, she decided to make a change from her former life in Phoenix and moved to Payson three years ago. Atkin and her daughter live with her parents, but anticipate their move into their new home later this year.
Atkin encourages her friends and others to apply for PAHH homes. She tells them to do it regardless of apprehensions.
"I am living testament of give it a shot, and you never know what's going to happen," said Atkin.