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May 29, 2019

The House that Love Built

By Adam Phillips

Single mom Alongee is excited about her Habitat house, and what it means to her and her daughter Armanee – a future full of hope and possibilities. However, things have not always been so promising. Growing up, Alongee experienced her share of troubles in school. Thankfully a guiding force intervened. Alongee’s grandmother Betty sat her down, warning that her current behavior would lead her down the wrong path if she failed to change. Thankfully, the message resonated with Alongee, and at that moment she decided to turn things around.

Alongee’s new Habitat home, located in Hidden Valley, has a similar story. Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood was formed in 1959, with neat brick ranch homes, and tree-lined streets with fairy tale names like Snow White Lane, Candystick Lane and Cinderella Road. Unfortunately, during the 1990’s and ensuing decades, Hidden Valley was overcome by criminal activity, including gang violence and drug trafficking. In recent years, through great effort by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, the Department of Justice and community residents, the neighborhood has rebounded with sharp decreases in crime and violence. The community is returning to its original roots.

As part of the effort to eradicate crime, in 2015 the Department of Justice impounded the house that once stood on the lot where Alongee’s home currently resides. The structure was seized during a raid in 2014, ending its reign as an outlet for drug trafficking and money laundering. In early 2018, the US Attorney’s office contacted Habitat Charlotte to inquire about donating the property as part of Operation Goodwill, a federal program designed to assist neighborhood communities impacted by drug trafficking and other violent criminal activity via transfers of federally forfeited properties. At the time, Habitat had been actively engaged in Hidden Valley, building 19 houses and performing critical home repair services to 20 existing homes. The short answer was yes; Habitat would be happy to receive the property.

When asked about her property’s checkered past, Alongee responds that “it really feels good – we’ve both been through a lot, taking something negative and turning it around.” She also refers to her home as the “house that love built” – an expression of the feelings she has towards the many volunteers who have helped to build it. Volunteers ranged from members of local law enforcement – prosecutors and staff from the US Attorney’s office, Deputy US Marshalls and Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officers – to students from Roger Williams University, who travelled to Charlotte from Rhode Island to work alongside Alongee during their winter break.

Before and after: Alongee’s new home (top) replaces the old boarded up structure (bottom).

Alongee and Beverly, new best friends and proud Habitat Charlotte homeowners.

Alongee’s Habitat experience also delivered another gift – a new best friend. Beverly is another single mom enrolled in Habitat’s Homeownership program. The two sat together during their first Homeowner in Process class, and have been inseparable since then. “We’re soul sisters…kindred spirits” says Alongee. Throughout their Habitat journeys, they have boosted each other, shared in sweat equity and developed a tight bond.

When asked to reflect on her Habitat experience, Alongee admits that it has been tough, but she has enjoyed every moment. Her new home means so much to her, and the blood, sweat and tears poured into it make her appreciate it that much more. With the stability of a permanent roof over their heads, Alongee can now spend more time with Armanee and Betty, while working towards her associates degree in Early Childhood Development at Haywood Community College. Her goal – to one day own and operate a daycare center or pre-school.

Are you looking for more information about Habitat homeownership, or simply want to make a difference in your community? Explore the links below to learn more.

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US Attorney Andrew Murray, who led the property donation effort and also volunteered during the build, and Alongee at her home dedication.

Roger Williams University students Makayla and Sabrina, who vo.teered during cold winter days

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