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Shanarrea Melvin helps construct her Habitat for Humanity home in Chattanooga's Glass Farms area. Homeowners are required to put in hundreds of "sweat equity" hours and attend homeownership classes.
some text Habitat representative Cheryl Marsh says most Habitat homes, like Shanarrea Melvin's, pictured here, are energy efficient and appraised between $100,000 and $125,000.

When Shanarrea "Shan" Melvin was 13, her mother passed away. She'd grown up in public housing at East Lake Courts, and then was taken in by an aunt.

She soon changed homes again — this time to the dorms at Baylor School. "I was pretty good with the ball," Melvin says of what brought her to Baylor, where she was on the volleyball and basketball teams.

When her aunt moved away from Chattanooga, her father couldn't keep up with the payment arrangement with Baylor, so she went to live with him in Dalton and finished high school at Dalton High.

In May, Melvin, now 28, moved into a home where she can finally put down roots. The single mother of 8-year-old Treylen and 5-month-old Tristen says her life has changed in so many ways since she moved into her Habitat for Humanity home in the Glass Farms area. Currently a customer service agent for Awardcountry.com, a website offering custom medals, awards and plaques that has a physical location in Red Bank, she recently got a job as a 911 dispatcher that she'll start in a few weeks. Having their own home gives her sons a sense of stability, and Melvin no longer has to worry about whether her heat and air conditioning will work, or if she'll get slapped with a huge water bill because of the leaking toilet her landlord didn't fix.

"It's been a wonderful experience," she says of Habitat for Humanity. "It's not only a good program, the people who work there treat you as though you're family and not just a number. They're happy you're going through this process."

some text Shanarrea Melvin helps construct her Habitat for Humanity home in Chattanooga's Glass Farms area. Homeowners are required to put in hundreds of "sweat equity" hours and attend homeownership classes.
Cheryl Marsh, Habitat's director of family services, recruits new applicants and walks them through the application process until they're ready to close on their new home. She says that process usually takes three to four months, and she tells applicants that becoming a Habitat homeowner is a faith journey — but one that's well worth it. In the end, they get a brand-new home for which they only have to pay $500 a month, including their mortgage principal, city and county property taxes, and homeowners' insurance.

"It's just an incredible program and incredible opportunity for those who are really seeking to become homeowners," Marsh says.

The Melvin family's home was a show of faith in more than one way. It was Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga's first Faith Build, in which nine churches of various denominations contributed volunteers and $5,000 each to the project. Participating churches were Christ United Methodist, Collegedale Community Seventh-day Adventist, North River Seventh-day Adventist, Ooltewah Seventh-day Adventist, Ooltewah United Methodist, Standifer Gap Seventh-day Adventist, St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal, St. Paul's Episcopal and Two Rivers.

"There's so much division and hatred and ugliness in our world," Eric Light, director of Reach Ministries at Ooltewah United Methodist Church, said following the groundbreaking. "But the feeling that came over me as we stood there is: This is what's right with the world."

In the past, individual churches have supported Habitat's work, and one local congregation has built 18 homes with the organization, according to Habitat Development Director Dominique Brandt. But this marked the first time local organizers "very intentionally" assembled sponsors and volunteers from different religious backgrounds to work toward a shared goal.

It will not be the last, says Brandt.

Like many Habitat homeowners, Melvin learned of the program from another Habitat homeowner. Melvin's godmother, who'd been a source of emotional support since her mom's passing, purchased a Habitat home 17 years ago and told her she should apply.

The 0-percent interest rate was a huge draw for Melvin. She'd looked into purchasing a home before going to Habitat, but couldn't afford the 5 percent interest rate the bank wanted to charge on her mortgage.

The three main requirements to be a Habitat homeowner are a need for housing, such as living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions or paying rent that's too high for one's income level; an ability to pay their mortgage payments and other household expenses each month, as well as $2,600 in closing costs; and a willingness to be a partner, putting in hundreds of sweat equity hours and attending 20 homeowner education classes on topics like budgeting, fire safety and understanding wills.

"I put my blood, sweat and tears into the house," says Melvin, who was pregnant throughout the process.

Most Habitat homes have three or four bedrooms and two full bathrooms, and are appraised between $100,000 and $125,000, Marsh says. They include large appliances (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher) and washer and dryer hookups.

"They're well-built, energy-efficient houses," she says.

Melvin's oldest son loves his new home, and it may lead him to a future career, she says. One day, Treylen wants to be just like Roy Jarvis, senior project manager for Habitat for Humanity and the lead contractor for their home, his mother says. "He thinks it's the coolest job he's ever seen in his life," says Melvin, who is looking forward to one day passing the three-bedroom, two-bath home home down to Treylen — something she believes her mother would have done for her if she could.

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