Homeless mom builds her own house

September 9, 2008 3:14:16 PM PDT
A Bay Area mom knows what it's like to go from homeless, to homeowner. Her name is Kelli Warner, and she did it through faith, hard work and help from a non-profit developer.

Kelli's story can inspire us all. Here's a woman who through a whole lot of sweat and tears turned her nightmare into the American dream.

When you get a tour of Kelli Warner's house in Windsor, you're getting a tour from the woman who not only owns it, she helped build it.

"This is the stairs that I built," said Kelli Warner.

Ironically, Kelli's drive to home ownership began ten years ago when she ended an abusive relationship, only to find herself, and her children homeless. Kelli would drop off then 11-year-old Curtis and 7-year-old Destiny at friends' homes in Santa Rosa to spend the night, and sometimes in the quiet of the car or shelter where she slept, a terrifying thought about her children would come to mind.

"Maybe they should be with someone who can provide them a home and a stable place to live, but they're my kids - so that just wasn't an option for me," said Kelli Warner.

Kelli decided right then and there she had to find a home, her own home. She remembered a self help program she'd heard about - some call it sweat equity. It's where a big chunk of your down payment is the sweat you put into building your house.

Kelli brought the sweat; the nonprofit Burbank Housing came up with the financing. Burbank Housing matches government assistance programs to first time buyers who have good credit, and at least low income. Kelli worked two jobs five days a week just to qualify as low income. On weekends, she worked some more.

"The construction team does a great job of taking people who have no experience and training them and getting them used to this kind of work - and it gets them to produce these houses," said Tom Kuhn, Burbank Housing project manager.

At first, Kelli had a problem:

"I was afraid of power tools, they can cut your finger off and there's not much you can do about it," said Kelli Warner.

Son Curtis watched mom overcome her fears and the odds.

"Working with saws and stuff - that's a little worrisome sometimes, I was thinking to myself - my mom is going to be doing that. She was out there all the time doing it, like it was nothing and showing everyone how it's done," said Curtis Warner.

Twelve months later, the house was done - three bedrooms two baths, $1,300 a month. Daughter Destiny watched mom go from sleeping in cars and shelters, to reaching for the stars, and realizing her dream.

"She's my inspiration. People say, "I can't do this," I look at her - she's going from nothing to owning her own house. She can do anything - what's stopping me from doing anything?" said Destiny.

For Kelli, there's a strong sense of I can do that - and a real, real good feeling.

"It makes me feel like the only time we'll be going to a shelter is to give back what we can and not to stay, and that's really cool," said Kelli.

Kelli says she couldn't have done it without the help of her friends and co-workers up there in Santa Rosa and Windsor. And now that her house is built, Kelli spends her spare time, helping others in the sweat equity program - build their dream homes -- and she's really good with a power saw.

To find out whether you might qualify for the Sweat Equity Program, visit www.burbankhousing.org.


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