Urbana family moves into Habitat home

By Adam Terese

Falesha Huff may have moved into a brand-new home built by volunteers two weeks ago, but the home sits in her childhood neighborhood.

“I can step out in my backyard and see the house I grew up in,” Huff said.

Huff, 32, and her two teenage daughters Brianna Huff, 16, and Breshauna Huff, 15, have lived in Urbana for their entire lives but now have a home to call their own. The University’s student Habitat for Humanity Chapter partnered with sponsor ReMax Real Estate to build the one-story, beige house at 1310 W. Eads St.

“Honestly, it’s not even something I can put into words,” Falesha Huff said. “I was standing on a vacant lot a few months ago and now my house is there.”

Huff had rented a home on Hill Street for about 7 years. Plumbing, gas and roof problems were common in the faded-white house, she said. Rainwater often seeped through the roof directly into Brianna’s room, she added.

Such conditions were reasons for the Huff’s eligibility in the program, said Diane Jeffers, chair of the committee that selects families. The Huffs had a need for better housing, the ability to pay for a home, and a willingness to contribute building hours, the three necessary criteria for eligibility, Jeffers said.

Huff, who currently works with the Washington Early Childhood Program teaching 3- to 5- year-olds, had never even thought about applying for a home until she attended a Habitat for Humanity meeting with a friend. Her daughters and a desire to own a home were two sources of motivation to apply.

As a single mother, Huff was originally in a dangerous financial situation, paying more than 30 percent of her income in rent on her old home, said Laura Huth, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Champaign and Piatt counties.

In her previous residence, she paid more than $700 in rent. The new home will cost considerably less at $380 per month with a new interest-free mortgage, she said. This allows her to focus more income on opportunities for her daughters.

Andrea Johnson, who works with Huff, said she is very deserving of the home.

“Everyone needs a home for their own,” Johnson said. “Falesha has certainly earned it. It wasn’t just given to her.”

Johnson noticed Huff as “more smiley and upbeat,” although slightly worried about new homeowner responsibilities. Nevertheless, Huff said she is ready to live in the home with her daughters, whom she said mean the world to her.

However, both girls came at a particularly challenging time in Huff’s life – they were born while she was still in high school. At 16, Huff had Brianna, and two years later, she had Breshauna. While Huff said the days were rough, she was able to prioritize her education and ended up graduating early.

Huff still places importance on education with her daughters. Her relationship with them is one she characterized as “completely open.”

“I look at my daughters like me and my mom were,” Huff said. “We grew up like best friends and honestly, my daughters now, there’s nothing they feel uncomfortable coming to me about.”

With her daughters growing up with no father figure, times were stressful, Huff said. However, through the love and support of her family, she said she never felt alone.

“It was hard emotionally for me and the girls, especially my daughters,” Huff said. “I’m a single parent, but I guess I’ve never considered myself one, I had so much family support.”

Though she admits the neighborhood has changed since her childhood, she said it still feels like home.

“The neighborhood has gotten better; it’s been beautified a lot more,” Huff said. “It always has been like a family to me.”

However, Huff wasn’t always guaranteed a place in her hometown – no suitable lot could initially be found in Urbana. It is not always easy to find an ideal lot due to limited funds within Habitat for Humanity, Huth said.

Huff waited for about two years, passing up lot options in Champaign. With Brianna happily in the Urbana school system and Breshauna in a program for students with hearing-related learning disabilities, she hoped to avoid switching school systems.

Her patience paid off – hope arrived in the form of an anonymous $10,000 donation.

“It speaks volumes about (Falesha) that someone would go out and just donate so much money like that,” Johnson said.

Habitat purchased a lot and the entire community answered with support. Volunteers from Habitat, ReMax and all over the community built the house in about four and a half months.

“Sometimes there were so many people there that they had to send people to other Habitat sites,” Huff said.

For now, Huff said her daughters hope to attend college in the future. Breshauna wants to be a pediatrician, and Brianna an eye doctor. Huff is glad to be among her family and considers the house a blessing for her and her daughters.

“I never would have thought I’d be a homeowner at 32 and a single parent,” Falesha said. “My family is all right here; it truly is a blessing.”