Women Build Homeowner Monica Grandpre

“I just wanna have everybody over. I was thinking maybe like a nice housewarming party or something like that. A barbecue, maybe. I don’t know. I’m just gonna have something. Even if it’s not much, it’s gonna be something. I just want everybody over.”

Monica Grandpre passes by her lot almost every day.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I passed by there the other day and saw a bulldozer there. I guess they’re putting up concrete, and every little thing you see just gets you excited. I passed there just to go look at the lot like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna live there.’ And then I show the kids, ‘Look, we got a yard now. We’re gonna be living there for the summer. We can actually go outside and have parties.’ I’m a family person, so having my own yard, I want to have my family out for barbecues and stuff. Things to keep our family together. Because since I moved in the neighborhood [where she lives now], I haven’t been able to do anything. So moving there, I can have family get-togethers.”

Her home will be the home built for Women Build this May on a lot north of Dwyer Rd. in New Orleans East, one of the first Habitat homes to be built there. It’s not far, from the America Street area where NOAHH has built over 60 homes. She picked it because it was a familiar location.

“My kids’ great-grandma stays around there, so I’m always in that area,” she said. “I know it’s a little safer than where I’m staying right now. I feel comfortable actually letting my kids outside. There’s a park down the street. I actually feel comfortable letting them go to the park, letting them play outside, maybe walk down the block, where in my neighborhood I can’t let them. Come home from school, they’re inside, caged up. And then even inside, it’s not safe. I kind of knew that neighborhood already, and it’s a good neighborhood.”

Her current home is not far from where she will be moving this summer. Though it’s nearby, the differences between neighborhoods is significant.

“It’s not too far but it’s very different,” she said. “The area around [where I am now], it’s like people piled up together. People all over people in that little area, and young men like to come hang out in that area and do their thing in that area. I passed around where I’m gonna be living, and it’s quiet. It’s a bunch of homeowners. It’s kind of different when people take pride in actually owning something instead of just other people’s stuff that I can tear up. It’s a different atmosphere all together from here to there.

“A few weeks ago there was a shooting, and actually, bullets came through my house, which I have pictures of. Like a bullet right over my son’s bed. Bullets through my living room. Bullets through my front door. Just last week I come home and as soon as I pull up coming home from work one of the neighbors is like, ‘Go inside.’ And less than 5 minutes later, pow pow pow pow pow pow pow pow. Yeah, so I’m very much motivated to get out of my neighborhood because that’s like the usual around there. The things I’ve seen going on. I actually lost a cousin. He was murdered [recently]. It’s just awful. It’s scary when I can’t let my kids go out to play.”

Before she moved to New Orleans, she was in Chalmette, where she had moved after the storm, but the distance was too great for her–she wanted to be with her family.

“I moved back to New Orleans just to be closer to everybody, because I felt a little separated from them,” she said. “Family is important, so I want to spend every little second I get with them. So it’s a way to bring people together. I like to have little functions at my house. They don’t have to be much. Just to have everybody over makes me happy.”

She first dreamed of homeownership many years ago, but hesitated when she first heard of the Habitat program. As the situation in her neighborhood became more dangerous, however, she began to look in earnest for ways to find safer, more stable housing.

“I think I actually heard about Habitat a few years ago and I thought, ‘no, I can’t do that,'” she said. “I think I called the number, and then I like hung up or something. So it was always in the back of my mind from many many years ago, and now there’s just a lot of things going on in my neighborhood right now. I was just Googling things, looking at anything that would help me find a house, and then Habitat popped up and I was like yeah, I remember this program and I just called.”

Before she applied with Habitat, she had tried saving up to buy a home through a traditional home loan.

“I was just kind of nickel-and-dime-ing it to pay bills. I started saying I gotta go without this and go without that. Anything to scrape up a dime together to start saving. But it’s not always easy. You know, credit issues. I was still trying to go to school. Well I started working on my credit first and calling around seeing how much I could get [with a traditional loan program], and then I looked at houses. Well, you can’t really get much of anything unless it’s a fixer-upper. It’s hard to pay mortgage and this and that then still have to work on trying to fix up a house you can’t properly live in. It just wasn’t attainable at the time. It’s hard enough just paying rent sometimes.”

“I was excited just thinking about a bunch of women being able to do what most people consider a ‘man’s job.’ It’s just exciting to know that a bunch of different women are coming together to do something to help me.”

Monica has finished about 200 hours of her sweat equity already, but she’s looking forward to Women Build in May, when she will finally be able to work on her own home. She has enjoyed working on others’ homes as well.

“I’ve built walls,” she said. “I’ve done a little painting. I don’t really care for that, though. I actually like doing more of the nailing, actually building stuff. I did a lot of the flooring. The trim of the floor. I like doing that kind of stuff because it’s actually sitting there measuring, and I’m trying to get it as perfect as I can get it. It makes me feel good to see my work in the end. I do everything but get on the roof. I’m afraid of heights.

“I always watched those home improvement shows on TV, so I like seeing that kind of stuff. And then being out there, I actually get really excited. When I finish, I actually wanna just pop up some days to just work on a house. I really do. I really love everything about it. And I want to do projects myself. I just wanna come help out. Like, I don’t want this to be the end of it. I want to help other people because I feel like so many people came together to help me, or are going to come together.”

Working mostly in New Orleans East, she has been working with construction site supervisor Alyson Harding, whose role as a leader on site gave some context for why Monica is especially excited for Women Build.

“I just like the process of watching everything going on,” she said “Like me working on other houses, I got to do certain things, but just working on one house from beginning to end, seeing every little thing that goes together with it, and then the fact that it’s women doing it, it’s like… when I first met Alyson, I really admired her. It’s just watching women do it all together, know you, just seeing us together, it’s empowering. I kind of makes want to get into it, actually, just seeing all that.”

“Just seeing Alyson, she’s meticulous and she takes pride in what she does. And just looking at her and knowing what a lot of men are thinking because I had this conversation. ‘Oh you need a man for this and you need a man for that.’ And then seeing her, and she’s running the show. I always have these conversations with men. We were probably talking about that the other day because I wanted to lift something, and it was like ‘oh you can’t.’ ‘No, I’m good.’ ‘Oh, she always wants to do this, and she wants to do that, and she’s not gonna listen.'”

“It just makes me more appreciative to know that I put in work. It’s not like I just came and bought this house. I get to see everything from the beginning to the end and say, ‘hey, I did that, I did that‘ I never thought I’d be building my own house.”

Like many of NOAHH’s partner families, Monica is a single mother. She works nights as a server at Royal House in the French Quarter. Working late nights and getting up to do sweat equity the next day isn’t always easy.

“It’s hard, but knowing what you’re working towards keep you motivated,” she said. “One of my main goals I’ve been working towards is being a homeowner, having something I can leave for my kids and know they’d be good in a house of their own. They’re always like Momma when we gonna have our own house? I just feel so proud, being able to do that for them.

“I think when I’m actually working on my own house, seeing that, it will finally seem real. I mean, everything is helping me right now, because you learn stuff throughout, like how I can fix things in my house when things happen in the house. But it’s still unreal to me. I think that’s why I got so excited seeing the bulldozer on my property. I get off work, I’m tired, but I still want to go around there even though I can’t see anything because it’s dark. I think once I actually come over there and start putting those nails together that’s when I think it’ll really really hit me.”

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