First-time Habitat Homebuyer Celebrates Final Mortgage Payment

There’s something about your first.

First love. First car. First job. First home.

And then, for a select few, there’s a first life you helped to change.

“Every employee at Habitat can tell you about the first homebuyer they worked with,” said Janet V. Green, Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg’s CEO. “You don’t forget your firsts.”

And for Janet, that was Pearl. 

It was the turn of the century and Pearl needed a home to call her own, a place to raise her grandchildren, Chanda and Tony.

Pearl was in her late 60s, mentoring children in the Head Start program and working to help change young lives, when she applied to the first-time Homebuyer Program.

Pearl’s application to the competitive program was denied. She applied a second time with the same result.

Habitat for Humanity requires good credit and steady employment while factoring in an applicant’s need for housing, when choosing its future homebuyers who pay back a zero-interest mortgage to the affiliate that funds additional construction.

But Pearl refused to be discouraged.

“It only made me work harder,” she said.

When Habitat approved her application in 2003, she was thrilled to have “stuck with it,” Pearl said.

Pearl moved into her ranch house in March 2004, the second home sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), along with United Steelworkers of America. NNS has now helped build 21 homes with Habitat.

Pearl, like all homebuyers, was active in building her home. She volunteered in many ways with Habitat, which is required for homebuyers, and then went above and beyond by coming out and offering baked goodies for the crew.

“I was so happy knowing I wouldn’t have to move again,” Pearl says.

Pearl is grateful her grandchildren grew up with their own bedrooms. She took pride in the holiday decorations that extended into the front yard on Christmas, reindeer and Santa on the lawn along with the twinkling lights in the bushes.

Her home remained a gathering spot over the decades for children’s birthday parties and today remains a hot spot for friend gatherings, twice weekly Tripoley sessions, a classic card game with chips.

“We lay out the board right here in the dining room,” Pearl said recently when Janet stopped by to visit Pearl to celebrate another monumental first.

Following 20 years of steady payments, Pearl became the first person in her family not only to purchase a home, but to also pay it off.

Pearl made her final mortgage payment in February 2024, and she says with giddiness, “it feels so good!”

Pearl takes as much pride in her home today as she did in 2004 when she moved in.

“I love my house,” says Pearl, now 88 and just as full of energy and zest, and still working with the same Head Start program 20+ years later. 

The original Habitat dedication plaque hangs in the hallway outside of her bedroom. A framed cross stitch reads, “Established 2003. Built with love for Pearl’s Family.”

She kept her grandchildren’s bedrooms almost just as they were when they grew up there, and her great grandchild visits frequently.

Her small living room and dining room, full of family photographs, are immaculately kept.

The tastefully decorated space shows off her love of flowers and the Atlanta Braves and contains a china cabinet full of collectibles.

Placemats on the table read, “Gather here with grateful hearts.”

They’re a fitting reflection of how Pearl feels about Habitat. Being able to call a place home for the last 20 years and working hard to pay off that home fill her with joy.

“She is the epitome of a Habitat homeowner, the reason why we all fight for access to affordable housing for all,” Green said. “She was raising her grandkids and wanted a home so much. She worked hard to make that happen and worked hard to pay it off. Now those grandkids are grown and Pearl has created generational wealth as part of her legacy.”

Pearl smiles. “I love living here. I am so thankful for Habitat.”


Want to invest in the community?


We help as many families as we can, but the lack of decent and affordable housing remains a critical problem in our area. By donating, you will provide upfront funding for building materials and services that makes interest-free loans to Habitat partner families possible. Habitat partner families help to build their own homes - alongside volunteers - and pay an affordable mortgage. Your monetary donations enable us to continue building strength, stability and independence for future local families.