Tracy Bryson seemed out of options and her spirit was sagging.
A 36-year-old single mother living in a small apartment in Glen Ellyn, Bryson repeatedly was turned away in her efforts to find a home her family could call its own.
Bryson's credit was sufficient, but her income from a waitressing job in downtown Wheaton was not high enough. She tried FHA, and attempted going through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with the same results.
Finally, recommended by the DuPage Homeownership Center, Bryson turned to DuPage Habitat for Humanity.
A year later, Bryson now has a 3-week-old child joining her 7-year-old son, and a home she is working to build through DuPage Habitat on its way.
"I thought I probably wouldn't qualify -- I thought 'That's just people you see on TV,'" Bryson said. "When Habitat came back and said 'yes,' I think I about fainted."
Bryson's story is not unique to this area.
While DuPage County is relatively affluent with a median household income topping $70,000, less than 22 percent of very low-income households have access to affordable housing.
"That's a big part of our mission -- finding homes for the workforce, keeping families tighter," said Dave Neary, executive director of DuPage Habitat for Humanity. "Our challenge in many ways is greater than that in Chicago."
Since 1995, DuPage Habitat has sold homes to 65 limited-income families with more than 150 children. Currently it is building three townhouses in an unincorporated area near Glen Ellyn, north of Butterfield Road on Route 53, with four more homes in the works.
Globally, Habitat has built more than 800,000 homes since its inception in 1976. For every house built in the United States, a corresponding one is built abroad.
It is a helping hand, but no handout.
Prospective homeowners must have pretax income at 60 percent or below median area income, invest 250 hours in "sweat equity" helping build homes, hold down jobs with good credit and participate in financial training. A 30-year, interest-free first mortgage is established through Habitat with a second mortgage due when the home is sold or transferred.
"Not only do they become homeowners but they are well-prepared, they become taxpayers and their children have a stable home," said Mary Nurse of DuPage Habitat. "It gives people a sense of dignity and pride."
It costs between $125,000 and $150,000 to construct a Habitat home. Both single-family homes and townhouses are built in three to six months, mostly through the help of volunteers and donations.
Bryson, never a homeowner before, had rented a house in Carol Stream for three years at a cost greater than a mortgage payment before moving into her Glen Ellyn apartment.
There her son struggled to maintain friends who frequently moved.
"He would tell me 'Mom, I don't want to live here anymore. I can't keep friends,'" Bryson said.
Two months after connecting with Habitat, Bryson discovered she was pregnant.
Her days now start at 4:30 a.m., and after she puts her baby down and gets her 7-year-old to school she tries to get to Habitat by 10.
It is a long day. But Bryson's mood brightens when she thinks of her family's future. Her son is already thinking about the ping-pong table and bike he wants to park in the house.
"There's actually hope that I can get a home where I can settle in with my sons," Bryson said. "It's been very inspiring."