Yvonne Falzone is a 57-year-old single mother of three. She is a legal processing clerk for the Pima County Attorney’s Office who loves reading and DIY projects.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Tucson, she is also a carpenter and a painter, and she is about to become a homeowner.
“My goodness, this is something I have dreamed about for my kids. I was raised by my grandparents and I remember that everyone always went to my grandmother’s house and felt at home there. That is what I want my home to be: A place where my kids build memories and say, ‘This is home,’” said Falzone, who was chosen last week as the 2017 Women Build Homebuyer for Habitat Tucson.
Women Build is an international initiative in partnership with Lowes that brings together women of all ages, skills and talents not only to raise the $90,000 necessary to fund a home, but to raise the walls and build the house.
The 2017 Women Build home will be completed and dedicated May 13, the day before Mother’s Day. Falzone’s home will be the 16th Women Build Home in Tucson.
The projects educate women about construction and illustrate that women can play critical roles in building and home ownership, said Ellen Wheeler, a member of the Board of Directors for Habitat Tucson who has been involved in fundraising for Women Build for five years.
“We are empowering women to see that they can be successful homeowners by contributing not only money but their own skills in building a house. They learn that they can do home maintenance and be independent, so it is a great model for women, particularly those who are single heads-of-households,” Wheeler said.
Women Build also shows what women can accomplish when they work together, said Jade Nunes, Habitat Tucson communications specialist.
“They are breaking the barriers that say women can’t handle hammers and nails ... and it offers a female bonding experience unlike any of our other programs, “ Nunes said. She emphasized that Women Build, like other Habitat for Humanity programs, does not give homes away for free.
“Our partner families pay an affordable mortgage with zero percent interest over a range of 20 to 30 years. The mortgage they pay goes straight back into building more homes. It is a sustainable business model that we are very proud of at Habitat,” Nunes said.
In addition to mortgage payments, an investment of sweat equity is required: Each Women Build adult partner must complete at least 250 hours of volunteer work at the home site.
Since Falzone was accepted into the program last January, she and her 21-year-old daughter, Amanda, have logged more than 300 hours on the build site in the Copper Vista II neighborhood off of East Drexel Road and South Park Avenue. They have taken on tasks ranging from framing and drywall to painting and stucco preparation.
“It is very enlightening. You feel some kind of pride in being able to do things you thought only men could do. It makes you feel like every challenge is attainable,” Falzone said.
While the work was initially intimidating, crew leaders and volunteers offer explanations and advice to make each aspect of construction feasible, she said.
“They are very knowledgeable and they are always there if you have questions. And no question is ever stupid: They have so much patience and explain everything to you. Now you put something in front of us and we do it. No job is too hard that we can’t get it done there,” she said.
In addition to the hands-on experience, the Women Build program also offers homeowners classes on plumbing and electricity as well as maintenance and repair. It also provides classes on budgeting and financial literacy.
“When you move in, you are not blind or naive as to what is going on. They give you the tools to be successful as a homeowner. I can’t put it any plainer than that,” said Falzone.
Falzone highly recommends the program for single mothers or families who want to attain home ownership.
“A lot of us can’t qualify for a traditional loan through a bank because we don’t make that much or the interest will make the mortgage payment so high that it isn’t convenient, and that is why we have always rented. This program makes it attainable. It is hard work — you don’t just go looking for a house and sign your name to a contract to buy it — but if you really want a home and you are willing to work for it, then you can do it,” she said.
In the end, Falzone can’t wait to make her Women Build house a permanent home for Amanda and her other two children, 6-year-old Jacob and Abrianna, 4. They are looking forward to planting flowers, growing a garden and making friends with neighbors, many of whom they already know from their work on the home.
“Our apartment situation is livable, but a home is a home. You can make it your own. We can’t wait to do that,” she said.