Each year, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area builds eight to 10 houses for low-income families, but one home — built almost entirely by women — received a little extra attention last month.
For the first time in 10 years, the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate reminded Chattanooga women that they can make a lasting impact in the push for affordable housing by challenging them to volunteer for its Women Build project.
A Housing Affordability and Vacancy Report published by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency in late 2013 said that almost all the city's low-income residents are housing-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and that there are few options for families with just one minimum-wage job.
A household must have a minimum income of $27,800 to afford the median gross monthly rent of $722 in the city, the report stated. The most recent Census figures show the city's median gross monthly rent had risen to $748 by 2015.
The Women Build project on Taylor Street, sponsored largely by Better Homes and Gardens Signature Brokers, drew more than 150 female volunteers wielding hammers and paintbrushes.
"More than 50 percent of volunteers across the board, across the country are women, but construction is still looked at as a very masculine type of career path or skill to have," said Dominique Brandt, development director at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area. "Women Build challenges that and says, 'Hey! We can do it, too! What's the difference?'"
Since starting in March, the home-build has seen teams of volunteers from about 12 local groups, including the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute, Rotary Club of Chattanooga, the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga and Lowe's. Students from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Girls Preparatory School also came out to lend a helping hand.
The project allowed the students to meet other women active in the community who could serve as role models — though Brandt said some of the more experienced volunteers learned a lesson or two from their younger counterparts.
"By bringing such a diverse group of women onto a worksite and having them work together, it really gives an opportunity for multi-generational and cross-generational learning and mentorship," she said. "It really is an empowerment tool for women."
Though, ladies weren't the only ones welcomed on-site, she added.
"Women Build is not about excluding men from the process," Brandt explained. "It is about a call to action to women to be a bigger part of the affordable housing puzzle and finding solutions and being active in that sense."
Volunteers were able to learn construction skills and practical life skills during the building process, but not all who contributed to the home's construction were on-site. Many helped build the house and took a stand for the cause through fundraising efforts and advocating for affordable housing, as well as raising awareness that girls, too, can build things.
Though meaningful to many who participated, the women's efforts were most appreciated by Ashley Jackson and her family, who closed on the recently finished house June 28. She, her boyfriend and her two children were living in a cramped, two-bedroom duplex before she applied for Habitat for Humanity's homeownership program.
The mother called becoming a homeowner "one of the best things to ever happen to me in my life" and said she won't soon forget the ladies who came together to help make it possible.
"[I want to] send a big thanks to each and every one of you for the donations and volunteers for my house," Jackson said. "Me and my family are so grateful to have you guys."
Staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith contributed to this story.