I am a board member of the Community Home Trust, and last week I was honored when they asked me to speak at the annual fete. I’ve pasted my speech below. Since there’s no video, you’ll just have to imagine all the stuttering and blushing.
A little more than five years ago I was working at Trader Joes, making slightly above minimum wage. My husband was working at UNC, and we had recently welcomed our first child, Elliott, to our family. One day I went to check the mail and found a notice from our landlord that he was increasing the rent for the third time in as many years. I crunched the numbers and realized there was no way we could afford an extra $100 a month.
I remembered seeing the Community Home Trust in the paper, and although I didn’t know exactly what they did, or who they helped, I took a leap of faith and picked up the phone. Amazingly, after three rings, there was a friendly voice on the other end. I started babbling about gross income and net and taxes and when I finally took a breath, the sales associate, Crystal, said, “I think we might be able to help you.”
I nearly wept with gratitude—and in fact I get a little choked up talking about this even now. Because what I did not know at that time was that what the Community Home Trust staff provides transcends the idea of shelter; it is bigger than help with a down payment, an affordable mortgage, or a house that fits my family. What the home trust has given me is right there in their name: A community.
In my neighborhood, Culbreth Park, a little more than a third of my neighbors are Community Home Trust home owners. From my front door, I can see three single-family homes that the home trust has fixed up, cleaned, and sold to amazing people. I stand at the bus stop with a mother from Taiwan, who closed a week after did. My son goes to school with a little boy whose mom recently achieved her lifelong dream of homeownership.
In my town, Chapel Hill, I am surrounded by thinkers, doers, and some of the most opinionated people I have ever met. Owning a home here has taught me to invest in my community in a way I never knew I had in me. I own a small business, I spend time volunteering for local non-profits, I’m a member of both the Board of Directors at my younger son’s preschool and the PTA at Frank Porter Graham Elementary. As a renter, I voted in municipal elections and had opinions about zoning, but as a homeowner I have learned to translate those opinions to action.
In my personal community—my group of family and friends—I have become known for my legendary budget advice. Give me a spreadsheet, and I can help you turn thousands of dollars of debt into an opportunity and a savings account. And where did I learn that skill? No lie, from the community home trust. Before you can buy a home you have to learn to make a budget. After counting those pennies and seeing where all the dimes went, I felt like I was given the keys to the kingdom. I use my knowledge from those budget sessions nearly every single day.
And I’m just one person. I look at the 200 homes in the community home trust stock, and I see a movement. In those living rooms, on those porches and back yards, are families who know their community has made an investment in THEM. We, the community home trust home owners, are here because you believe in us, you love us, and you want us to be here. In Carrboro, in Chapel Hill, in Hillsborough and Orange County. We are your teachers, your nurses, your civil servants, and your barristas. With the kind of welcome and trust you put in us, how could we not, in turn invest in you?
So we are now also your advisory board members, your neighborhood clean-up crew, your volunteers for the Charity 5K. My cohort of fellow community home trust homeowners are just about the most giving, most community-minded people I’ve ever met. And that’s no coincidence. When a community gives to its residents, as this one has, the residents will never hesitate to give back.
Thank you to everyone who is here tonight, from the elected officials who champion our cause, to the generous donors, to the staff members without whom the Community Home Trust would grind to a halt. It’s rare that you are able to be a part of a movement that affects real change in a community, but it’s through your work and your energy that families like mine are able to thrive.