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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tanieshia Looney poses with her children, A'Nieshia Jones, 6, and Anthony Fullilove, 12, at the site of their future home on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

While serving as classrooms and offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, homes have become more essential than ever over the past year.

At the same time, they have become less affordable as well, which makes Tanieshia Looney feel doubly grateful for the opportunity to be a new homeowner through Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area's Women Build program.

"Women Build is a way to create a space for women in an industry that is typically male-dominated," said Madison Bradford, development and communication director for Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Chattanooga Area. "Through Women Build we are able to give women opportunities to engage on the build site, and also to stand up for affordable housing through their voices and through their gifts."

Most of the money used to construct the Women Build home is raised through ticket sales for the Women Build Breakfast, which is this Saturday from 9-10:30 a.m. at the First Tennessee Pavilion.

Women face more obstacles than men in the path to homeownership, particularly single moms like Looney, Bradford said. The need to pay for child care on wages that are typically less than what men make for the same jobs is a challenge many women are unable to overcome.

Of the 286 Habitat homes built in Hamilton County, 84.7% have a female head of household, Bradford said.

Over the past two years, Looney has been going through the process of becoming a Habitat homeowner, which includes an application, interview, credit check and home visit before acceptance into the program. Once accepted, future homeowners are required to complete 100 volunteer hours and a variety of classes, with topics such as money management, being a good neighbor, fire safety, landscaping and plumbing.

"Everything that you would need to know to be a homeowner, they teach you, instead of just throwing you to the wolves," said Looney, adding that the organization continues to follow up with homeowners long after the build is over.

After staying in East Ridge for the past two years, Looney said she's happy to be back in the school zone for Brown Academy, where her son Anthony, 12, and daughter A'Nieshia, 6, previously attended. A'Nieshia will go back to Brown next year and Anthony will return to Howard, which is closer to the location of their new home in Alton Park.

They will also be closer to the East Lake recreation center, where Looney coaches softball, baseball and basketball.

Looney works from home for a home warranty company, so her new home is a new office as well.

All Habitat homeowners have 30-year, no-interest mortgages and are required to make monthly payments that are less than 30% of the homeowner's income.

Groups of women volunteers build the home and fundraise for the project, Bradford said, but men are not excluded from volunteering to build or attending the group's breakfast.

While Looney's home site is now an empty lot with a pile of bricks, this week volunteers will build the foundation and raise the walls. The home is set to be complete in late August, and Looney plans to live there starting in September, just in time to celebrate her 37th birthday.

Tickets to the 2021 Women Build Breakfast are no longer available, but for more information or to make a donation, visit habichatt.org/women-build. To volunteer for Women Build and to learn about other build opportunities, contact Volunteer Engagement Manager Hannah Muller at hmuller@habichatt.org.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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