Female veterans earn Habitat for Humanity homes

Habitat volunteers and staff gather to celebrate the completion of a home at Female Veterans’ Village in Cocoa.

After serving their country in the military, fate dealt Karla Griggs and Lisa Stinson bad hands.

Griggs, a Titusville native, enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 but later struggled to find decent housing for her family. Stinson joined the Navy during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, sustaining traumatic injuries and PTSD that led to addiction.

The two women were homeless for years, living in cars, friends’ couches or in transitional housing until last year, when Habitat for Humanity of Brevard stepped in with keys to safe, decent and affordable new houses with zero-interest mortgages in a special military retiree community.

The two women are the first residents of Habitat’s Female Veterans’ Village, an enclave of six houses built on the site of a former trailer park at the southern end of Cocoa. Griggs moved into her new home in June 2020, with Stinson following into her own residence in August.

The Female Veterans’ Village is a unique community where women with a common background can support each other as neighbors.

“To our knowledge, this is the first of its kind in the nation,” said Habitat executive director Anna Terry.

The Village has garnered national interest and was featured in a webinar made by parent organization Habitat International.

“There are other people now modeling what we have,” added Terry.

All Habitat projects require prospective homeowners to agree to 300 hours of sweat equity and a steady, albeit modest, income that is between 30 percent to 80 percent of the average gross median income in the county, based on household size. They must not have owned a house within the past three years and must currently be living in substandard housing or be homeless.

According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Florida, with more than 144,000 female veterans, boasts the third largest concentration of women veterans, just behind Texas and California.

“Brevard has one of the highest concentrations of veterans, and 9 percent of them are female,” said Terry.

The National Housing Conference notes that many of these veterans have returned to civilian life during a time of rising housing costs and a difficult job market.

If Terry has her wish, Griggs and Stinson soon will have four new neighbors. The major hurdle has been raising awareness among veterans about the opportunity. Stinson, for example, did not know for years that she could apply for a Habitat home.

For more information, visit brevardhabitat.com or call 321-728-4009.