'A voyage I'm so pleased I took': Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on new Ames builds, others pay off mortgages

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune
Des Moines Area Community College Building Trades Instructor Joe Brend instructs his students as they work on a Habitat for Humanity home in Ames Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

People who donate two-by-fours to Habitat of Humanity get to write messages to the future homeowners on the building material. 

Lisa Elm's son was so grateful to the people who helped build his family's home, he insisted the two-by-fours used in his room not be covered up by drywall.

As Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa builds two new homes for Ames families this year, Elm, the owner of the organization's first build in town, and one other Habitat homeowner recently paid off their mortgages. 

"Just thinking about it now — how important it was at that time to be able to bring my kids to the empty lot and say, 'This is where our home is going to be', just (gave us) the sense that we were like other families, with our own house with a yard," Elm said.

More: Habitat for Humanity partnership brings two new homes to Ames amid lumber cost rise, other shortages

Elm's home, completed in 1997, was the first built by Habitat for Humanity in Story County. Before that, the single mother lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her son and daughter, ages 9 and 11 at the time, until she read about Habitat for Humanity in the paper.

The experience of witnessing and participating in the building of their home led Elm's daughter, now 35, to pursue a career in architecture, Elm said.

The move meant her children had their own bedrooms, could have friends over without worrying about noise disturbing nearby neighbors, and gave them a backyard to run around in and play. Most importantly, the home gave her family stability, Elm said.

Now, nearly 25 years later, she's made her last payment on the home.

"It feels good," Elm said. "Kind of unbelievable."

Lisa Elm (middle) moved into her home in 1997 with her two children, made possible by Habitat for Humanity. Nearly 25 years later, she has paid off her mortgage.

Aloma Foley, who moved into her Habitat home in 2008, was also able to pay off her mortgage this year. At the time, she'd adopted two 6-year-old girls and lived in a two-bedroom apartment as she went through nursing school. Foley was a single mother and also had an adult son and daughter who helped with the building process.

Her daughters' therapist recommended Habitat for Humanity, and Foley was later selected into the program.

“When I saw the diagram of what the House would look like, that's when I really got excited,” Foley said. "It turned out to be a voyage I really am so pleased that I took."

More:Six philanthropy awards given to Story County people, organizations, businesses

Aloma Foley moved into her Habitat for Humanity home in 2008 with her recently adopted 6-year-old daughters. She recently paid off her mortgage early.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers — students from Des Moines Area Community College — started construction on one of the new Story County builds this fall. DMACC Building Trades Instructor Joe Brend said they will start on the other Ames home in Marh. 

The two new builds come as a market of rising lumber prices and supply chain shortages slowly normalizes, Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Sandi Risdal said. The new builds are specifically designed to use minimal lumber to keep the prices low.

The homes come at a reduced price for families with a 10-year interest-free mortgage. Habitat also helps families with financial planning.

Land for one of the builds was purchased at a reduced price through a partnership with the city, part of an effort to create more affordable housing options in Ames. The topic of affordable housing has been at the forefront of city discussions as advocates say more needs to be done to increase the housing supply for low-income residents.

"We definitely want to be part of the solution," Risdal said.

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.