Camille Allen’s home in Morristown was formerly the site of the neighborhood dump, a place to deposit leaves, glass bottles, and the occasional used tire. Then Morris Habitat for Humanity acquired the compact piece of property nestled in a corner of a development close to Speedwell Avenue. Today, the land bears no evidence of its junkyard past. A three-unit house sits on it enveloped by large trees. Allen lives with her two sons in the middle unit. All three units have a comfortable two-level floor plan with three bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, living room, and utility room downstairs.
Life was not always so good for Allen. Before she moved into her Habitat home in 2002, the 35-year old Jamaica native, who came to the U.S. eighteen years ago, lived in Morris Plains while working as a social worker with the Morris County Division of Human Services. Her older son, Sean, was in high school and her younger one, Fabian, was in elementary school.
For Allen, the financial burden of living in one of the most expensive counties in the country was proving to be too much. “I was paying 60% of my income for rent,” she said. “It was hard to make ends meet.”
And so when she found out that she had been chosen from among many applicants to become one of the homeowners in a three-family structure to be built in Morristown, Allen was overjoyed. “It was very emotional,” she said of the time. “We were really excited.”
Her circumstances, she feels, were symptomatic of the affordable housing crisis in Morris County, one that affects not just low-income individuals but those of moderate income as well. As an articulate and confident young woman with a college degree, she had “a decent job,” Allen said, but it was still a struggle to come up with the monthly rent payments.
Now free from the burden of writing large rent checks, this single mother can focus on the things that are important to her, like her sons’ education. Fabian, now a sixth grader, is on the Honor Roll at Freylinghuysen Middle School while Sean is a junior at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
She herself has her sights set on more than one goal. She currently holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology but intends to return to school for a master’s and eventually a doctoral degree in social work. In addition to her full-time job, she referees at soccer and lacrosse games, serves as the president of the area’s Interfaith Council for the Homeless, and often bakes for various local events.
How does she fit all this into a 24-hour day? “I don’t need much sleep,” Allen said with a smile, but she attributed part of this voluntary hyperactivity to being a Habitat homeowner. “When your financial situation changes, your entire life changes,” she said. “If your housing is unstable, you can’t focus on your goals.”