The single mother of three grasped the keys to her very first home between thumb and forefinger. Her hand shook, and there were tears in her eyes. The lock clicked. Her kids cheered.
“God is good. God is good,” Shawanna Davis said.
On Saturday afternoon, Davis’s family and six others received the keys to new homes in Northeast Washington.
The two-story, single-family homes are among the first completed as part of a Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., project to build or rehabilitate a total of 23 houses in the Ivy City neighborhood.
Eight homes have been finished since the project broke ground in October, and there are plans for 15 more.
The first-time homeowners were selected based on need, credit history and willingness to put in about 300 hours of “sweat equity,” or time spent helping build the homes, said Annah Walters, Habitat’s home buyer services manager. All seven families live in the District and were required to take home-purchasing workshops, Walters said.
“We want to bring stability into an area which has historically been renter-oriented,” said Kent Adcock, president and chief executive of Habitat for Humanity of Washington.
Habitat for Humanity has served about 145 families in the District during the past 20 years, Adcock said.
Although some new dance clubs have opened in the neighborhood in recent years, Ivy City remains one of the poorest parts of the District. Most neighborhood residents rent; about 15 to 20 percent own their homes, Adcock said.
Assistant D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes, who dropped by the festivities Saturday afternoon, said the new homes will help rejuvenate the neighborhood.
“Seventeen years ago, this area was so desolate, drug-infested, there was nothing here,” Groomes said. “This place needs humanity.”
Davis’s home on Providence Street was the first to be completed. A brick sidewalk leads to the front door, which welcomed her with a bright red bow.
“Can we open the door? Can we open the door?” Davis’ son, Tarvis, 3, asked, tugging at his mother’s hand. He let go of his blue Nerf football in his excitement.
Davis had been living in an apartment complex in Southeast Washington for the past decade. Her neighborhood, she said, was riddled with crime and drugs. One time, her elder daughter, Zenniah, now 15, caught two neighborhood boys trying to steal the family car, Davis said.
“It was just a dangerous neighborhood,” Davis said. She first heard about Habitat for Humanity in 2003, and she promised her children that one day they would move into a home with a front yard where they could play and a back yard where they could barbecue.
“If it wasn’t for my kids, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” said Davis, who works as a medical assistant. She will start nursing school next week.
Zenniah said she looks forward to sharing a bedroom with her younger sister, Zykeah, 10, a space without Tarvis “running around and terrorizing everything.” She plans to help Habitat for Humanity build and rehabilitate homes when she turns 16, the minimum age for volunteers on construction projects.
Donna Hines, a D.C. native and mother of three, said she had a hard time believing that her dream of owning her own home had come true. She clutched a leather-bound family Bible, signed by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who participate in the Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity International one week each year.
“I thought it’d take years to build a house, not eight to nine months,” Hines said. “I kept saying, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ and when I saw it, I said, ‘I’ll believe it when I get the keys.’ ”
With the keys to her new home on Providence Street in hand, Hines showed off the washer and dryer, donated by Whirlpool, to family and friends.
She’ll live there with her 17- and 13-year-old sons and their new baby sister, Romiyah. Hines said she can’t wait to decorate the place with “lots of colors.”
“I just want to walk through the house and take it all in,” Hines said.