How Perseverance Helped Veteran Alejandro Become a Joyful New Homeowner at Isabel Villas

The veteran population in Los Angeles County is growing, and Habitat LA believes homeownership opportunities should grow with them. Army veteran Alejandro and his family recently moved into Isabel Villas, becoming the eighth family to call the community home.

In a recent interview with Alejandro, he shared with us the range of experiences and emotions he has had while becoming a Habitat LA homeowner.

What was your military title and rank, and for how long did you serve? Can you describe your experience?
I joined the military as an E-1 recruit. I rose to the rank of Sergeant E-5 over four years. I found myself continuously learning and growing under skilled drill sergeants and army rangers who were the best in the field, from what I saw. Throughout, I had the support of my family, especially my sister who was my recruiter and now she’s a veteran of 23 years. She was my motivation.

Were you familiar with Habitat for Humanity’s work? How did you connect with Habitat LA?
I wasn’t familiar with Habitat LA. At the time, last year, I was facing difficulties with rent and that’s when I turned to VPAN (Veteran Peer Access Network) for support. It’s an organization where veterans look for rental help and other resources. I was sent the Isabel Villas flyer from one of the VPAN team leaders. I recognized the opportunity to secure a low-income home, and I saw the Isabel Villas flyer as an ideal start for my journey toward homeownership.

How did it feel to get your keys and walk into your home for the first time? How does your family feel about having their very own brand-new home?
I felt many emotions. It was an indescribable moment filled with relief and joy. After going through numerous struggles, finally having a place to call my own brought a profound sense of happiness and security. I passed the keys to my son when we got here, and I witnessed his excitement. You could just tell that two-and-a-half-year-old boy understood what was happening. When we would meet up with the realtors a couple times, my wife and I would tell him “casa, casa” and he said it too. I felt a bunch of pride and contentment.

Also, stepping inside for the first time, the warmth enveloped me. I felt at ease. Our realtors made everything smooth and made me feel like family. My wife was emotional and tearing up; it made me even happier. My family’s gratitude for this new opportunity to own a home is immense. We’re committed to being good neighbors and actively contributing to our new community. This home represents more than a place to live, it symbolizes a fresh start and brighter future for all of us.

What was it like going through our homeownership courses? Anything that surprised you about the process?
Participating in the homeownership courses was a journey into the unknown for me. For instance, delving into the maintenance class opened my eyes to various aspects of the home upkeep, some of which I was familiar with because I am an HVAC Technician. Seeing this information being taught to us was a whole new ballgame. I was like, “Wow, Habitat is on top of their game! They are showing us how to maintain our equipment, that’s cool.” Also, the budgeting class was a revelation for me. Learning practical strategies for budgeting and financial planning not only empowered me to make informed decisions, but also it instilled a newfound confidence in managing my finances as a homeowner.

What type of volunteer work have you done as your “sweat equity” hours with Habitat LA, and can you describe that experience?
My sweat equity hours have been a diverse range of volunteer activities, from construction tasks like window installation to roofing, which was pretty cool. It was something new for me and it’s amazing that I picked up this new skill. I’ve also worked at the ReStore with my wife. We got to price a bunch of items and put them out on the shelves. They gave us that role, which is an honor, and we seemed to do well at it! We also helped move furniture and helped load it into customers’ cars and trucks. One of the most memorable experiences that I had was when I helped at the LA Marathon. It was fun to make signs and cheer on the runners! It felt like they needed us at the Habitat LA cheer station as they had so many more miles ahead.

Did you know that your house was worked on by other people completing their sweat equity hours? How does that make you feel?
Initially, we didn’t realize that our home was worked on by others. When we started seeing other homeowners at events, that’s when we realized. Some would say, “Hey, are you guys at Isabel Villas yet? I worked on your home!” They put in their sweat equity hours and it’s awesome for them to do that. I know it takes lots of work, I’ve seen what it takes.

What does community mean to you?
Community to me embodies a profound sense of connection and mutual support, basically a big extended family. It’s more than just sharing physical space; it’s about having meaningful relationships with neighbors who I can rely on and confide in – much like you would with family members. All our neighbors accepted us with open arms. When we were moving in, I remember Eddie, our neighbor across from us, saw us moving our stuff and said, “Hey, if you’re hungry, come on down.” He was having a birthday party for his son, and that made us feel like family. That’s what community means to me, family and having a sense of camaraderie and solidarity, just like you would have in the military.

What does it feel like to be a part of this new community at Isabel Villas?
It’s a positive experience for me and my family. In addition to Eddie, our neighbor Ray introduced himself and said if we ever need anything, to knock on his door anytime. Everyone has been amazing to us, and they love our kids. The hospitality is what made us feel very accepted and valued.

What encouragement or words of advice do you want to share with other veterans, or any future homeowners who are curious about partnering with Habitat LA and becoming a homeowner?
I would say to fellow veterans and even prospective homeowners that perseverance is key. Throughout the journey to homeownership, there may be moments of frustration or doubt but it’s essential to stay resilient and not give up. This program has been a lifeline for me and my family, and it’s provided valuable resources and support along the way. Be prepared for a rigorous process. Becoming a homeowner with Habitat LA is a series of steps. Stay organized and attentive to meet deadlines. Thankfully, everything went smoothly with us. Also, remember that you’ll have to complete sweat equity hours such as construction work or volunteering with the community. Face this opportunity wholeheartedly as it not only helps build your home, but also fosters a sense of pride and ownership in the process. Be ready to pay it forward!

Again, we’re very thankful for this opportunity. Our journey starts here, and we can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Currently, the number of veterans in LA County is greater than any other county in the United States. Now, more than ever, it is time to honor the over 300,000 veterans who live and work in Los Angeles County. Learn more about Habitat LA’s Habitat for Heroes program.