Julieta Aquino strolls proudly through her gleaming new home, a modest split-level condo on a busy thoroughfare in Fremont. With her 14-year-old daughter in tow, she scans the still-sparsely furnished, open floor plan living room-kitchen, pointing out the glistening, stainless steel fixtures and laminate countertops.

“It’s a pretty decent-sized kitchen, considering it’s just two of us,” said Aquino. “I’m going for a farmhouse style.”

A 31-year-old single mom with a limited income and no college degree, Aquino has done the seemingly impossible: become a homeowner in one of the most brutally expensive housing markets in the country.

And all she had to do was help build it herself. “It was never a thought in my mind to be a homeowner because that just seemed so far away.” Julieta is a WANDA Silicon Valley program graduate, learning to set personal goals, boost her financial literacy, advance her career, and sharpen key life skills. Julieta reached her savings goal early and is applying her WANDA savings and match toward her part of the down payment on her new Habitat for Humanity home.

This summer, Aquino and her daughter, Alexys, were among 11 low-income families who received keys to their new homes in Central Commons, a small development they all helped build over the past two years as participants in a Habitat for Humanity East Bay-Silicon Valley project. Like all future homeowners in the Habitat program, each family was required to put in 500 hours of so-called sweat equity, pounding nails and pouring concrete alongside project managers and volunteer work crews on the construction site. READ MORE…

The 33-year-old local Habitat program, which annually serves more than 1,200 residents in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, is by no means a panacea for the Bay Area’s formidable housing crisis. But it does offer a glimmer of hope in what can be a grim and daunting housing landscape.