Owning it: Housing advocate becomes a homeowner

LaTita Talbert in front of her new home. Photo: John Robinson LaTita Talbert in front of her new home. Photo: John Robinson

LaTita Talbert is a single mother of six, a city bus driver, and a commissioner on the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority—and now, she’s a homeowner. On January 25, Talbert’s friends and family gathered in the backyard of the neat gray house on Sixth Street SE that Talbert renovated with Habitat for Humanity, to celebrate.

“It’s a privilege. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point,” Talbert says. “I’m excited about being loved and having so many family members and friends come out to celebrate us. It’s a joy.”

The day had been a long time coming for Talbert. Habitat purchased the house more than a year and half ago, and construction began nine months ago. Talbert moved to Charlottesville in 2006 and lived in public housing and Section 8 rentals until she moved in to her new home. 

“Just from the standpoint of being low-income, and the stigma that comes along with being low-income, where people think that they can’t have anything, they can’t do anything—I think that I pushed some boundaries,” Talbert says.

She hopes she can be an example for others. “I’d like to see every housing resident as a homeowner,” Talbert says. “I know that it’s possible that somebody sees me and says, ‘She did it, I can too.’” 

Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity, says Habitat selects potential homeowners based on their “willingness to partner and the housing conditions that folks are in.” 

“Then they get into the program and they start doing what’s called sweat equity,” Rosensweig says. Talbert did more than 150 hours of that work: contributing to other Habitat job sites, taking home ownership classes, and participating in community service projects.

Talbert’s house was purchased after a foreclosure and then renovated. Rosensweig says the property, on the west edge of Belmont, was chosen in part to combat gentrification in Charlottesville. “Our goal, in addition to building as many homes as we can, is to find those neighborhoods that might be ripe for gentrification and try to make sure that we can keep low-income home ownership, affordable home ownership, as part of the mix for people who’ve been here,” Rosensweig says.

Habitat does three things: “We build homes in mixed-income communities, we rehab neighborhoods without displacement, and we’re trying to work on the policy level to try to, essentially, fix a broken housing system,” says Rosensweig. He thinks Talbert’s house project helps Habitat with all three of those goals. 

Talbert says participating in the renovation made the payoff even more satisfying. “You can walk through your own home and say, ‘I painted that wall. I did that nail. I put that together. I helped do that.’ It’s exciting to see the end process from the beginning.”

“I’m trying to retrain my mind from saying, ‘I’m paying rent,’ to ‘I’m paying a mortgage,’” she says.

Talbert’s success offers a stark reminder of the dire housing situation in Charlottesville. According to a 2019 report from the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership, more than 16,000 people in the region are cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened by housing. Hundreds of people are on the waitlist for public housing, and wait times can be as long as eight years. Average rents are rising.

Habitat works wonders for the individuals who pass through the program, but at this point it’s not a large-scale solution for the deeply ingrained issues facing the town. Rosensweig says application cycles often see roughly 150 people apply for about 20 Habitat homes. 

On Saturday, however, the mood was celebratory. Talbert and her children sat across folding chairs in the backyard, with friends and family and Habitat employees scattered behind them. 

Pastor Stanley L. Speed of God’s House of Faith began the proceedings with a prayer. “I thank God for this moment,” Speed said. “I praise God for the Talbert family, the action of faith coming to fruition today.”

In her remarks at the end of the ceremony, Talbert thanked her church community. “The days I was frustrated, trying to juggle life and Habitat and everything else, they held me up,” she said.

Vice-Mayor Sena Magill spoke briefly as well. “On behalf of the City of Charlottesville, welcome home. You have earned this. Habitat is not an easy program,” Magill said. City Councilor Heather Hill and former vice-mayor Wes Bellamy were also in attendance. 

Magill emphasized the importance of property ownership as a building block towards a fairer Charlottesville. “Home ownership is where true equity begins,” Magill said. “Now you have something that you can leave to your children.”

In a city beset by a housing crisis, Talbert’s new homeownership represents both an admirable success story and a reminder of the tremendous amount of work left to do.

“To see where we came from to where we are now, it’s just like, wow,” Talbert says. “It’s a wow moment. We really did this.” 

 

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Jason Halbert

Impressive all around! This is a great story and I am happy for Latita!