Alyssa Romo is a 25-year-old assisted living employee and homeowner as of about a month ago.

She’s also a single mom to her 7-year-old son Roque Villicana.

The two moved into their new home just under a month ago with the help of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity Tucson.

I dreamed of always buying him a house and we did it,” Romo said through tears. “It felt like, you know, all the hard work paid off, and it was worth it…knowing that I did it for my son.

Previously, they lived in apartments where the AC wasn’t reliable or porch thieves plagued the neighborhood.

But now, their community has a park and good schools just around the corner.

Habitat requires prospective homeowners to go through an application and interview process before selections are made, through which the applicants must prove they have a need for housing assistance.

“I applied and I was just like, you know, “Maybe there are more families in need than us,”” she said. “And when I got the acceptance letter, it was like, “Woah.” I couldn’t believe it.”

Once approved, the future homeowner will partner with the organization by doing volunteer work and taking hands-on courses labeled “sweat equity.”

Romo spent a full year completing her sweat equity hourswhich usually amount to 200-400 hours and is one of the youngest single mothers to complete the program.

In addition to taking homeownership skill classes, Romo also participated in the trades.

“I learned so much, like painting, caulking. Maybe there’s a hole in the wall and I know how to fix that,” she said. “Use a hammer…like the smallest things, I didn’t know. And now I know if something breaks, I know how to handle it.”

Due to rising rent costs and increased evictions, CEO of Habitat Tucson Charlie Buchanan said he’s seen the demand for affordable housing double, and even triple, in the last few years.

The organization keeps mortgage costs low by scaling monthly bills so they don’t exceed 30% of the homeowner’s gross income.

That money is then funneled back into Habitat to help pay for the construction of additional homes.

However a new build-in bulk model is changing the landscape of constructing affordable housing. It’s happening specifically at the facility in Tucson known as the CHUCK Center.

Initially, [it] started as a need for a warehouse, the ability to procure materials in bulk and capture economies to scale rather than house-by-house, Buchanan said.

Habitat recently rolled out its new concept of prefabricated wall panels to speed up the construction process.

There are 13 unique wall panel models that make customizing the homes possible for the organization’s diverse pool of applicants, and it’s all thanks to the help of volunteers.

So we can go from an 18 to 24-month build time down to a 6 to 9-month build time.”

This technique won Habitat two major recognitions: a “Housing Hero Award” from the Arizona Department of Housing and a “Torch Award for Ethics” from the Better Business Bureau.

Before, Habitat Tucson built 10-15 houses annually, and this year, it’s on track to complete 20.

25 houses are projected for 2024 under this new plan.

The same walls are also being used to construct an on-site building where AmeriCorps volunteers can stay during their service.

This project serves also as a classroom for Pima Community College students who are heading the labor on the building.

Buchanan said hard times and vast needs like these require creative solutions.

Everything starts with home,” he said. “You cant have a healthy community without a home. You cant have a productive employment future without a home. You can’t have a quality education without a stable place for kids to come and do homework.

Although Romo’s home was permitted and designed before Habitat launched this new business model, she said this opportunity made even more of her dreams possible.

Now that we have an affordable mortgage, we kind of want to go to Disneyland,” she said. “In our other living situation, we couldnt even afford to go out to eat.

They have their sights set on the trip in January for Roque’s eighth birthday.

Habitat’s newest neighborhood using prefabricated walls will be breaking ground next month, right next to Romo’s community.