Habitat for Humanity homeowner: "We're very blessed"

·2 min read

Jun. 21—NICOLLET — When Erica De Leon and her daughter Virginia Smith, 17, moved into their new home in Nicollet after many years of renting it was transformative.

"We were very blessed. I wanted to be a homeowner for years but I rented and it's very expensive," said De Leon, who was recently able to buy her own home through the Habitat for Humanity program.

For her daughter, the home means her own space after having to share a bedroom with her mom or other relatives when they rented small apartments.

"Now I can say I have my own home instead of just saying I live in an apartment," Virginia said. "It's so big. I have my own big room and being able to decorate it is so nice."

The two showed off their new house at an event Tuesday hosted by USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer and Habitat officials.

"Being in your own home makes everything in your life better," said Landkamer. The USDA partners with Habitat on some home projects.

De Leon has lived in Nicollet for 10 years, renting apartments and working for seven years at Schmidt's Meat Market until putting herself through college.

More than 17 years ago, De Leon's fiance, Zak Smith, a veteran who had just returned home, was killed in a car accident. Soon after she found out she was pregnant.

A few years ago Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich gave her a Habitat application and De Leon was soon enrolled in the program that helps secure mortgages, educates new homeowners and requires that applicants participate in building a new home, along with other volunteers, many who have experience in construction.

De Leon's home took much longer to build than normal — three years — because COVID restrictions halted construction and there were delays in getting some supplies. Because of COVID restrictions De Leon couldn't help work on the home's construction much so she replaced those hours with a variety of volunteer hours at the Nicollet school and other local events.

"Nicollet is a very loving, supportive community," De Leon said.

She, like others in Habitat for Humanity, took classes to help her understand the mortgage process and provide tips on what it takes to maintain a home and yard.

Her new home is next to two other Habitat homes built a few years ago and another nearby Habitat home is nearing completion.

"I'd definitely recommend Habitat to others."