From Dreaming to Doing: One Staff Member's Journey to Habitat Chicago

Latesha Steele dreams big. As a lifelong resident of Roseland, she has always wanted the best for her neighborhood and historically disinvested groups in Chicago. But when she started to dabble in the world of real estate, she quickly found out that it wasn’t what it seemed.  


“Once I started working with more investors to purchase properties, renovate them, and sell them, I recognized that mortgage companies were not managing their assets in the areas that I lived,” Latesha noted. “Did they actually care about the neighborhoods?”  


After realizing she was more attracted to renovations and rehabs rather than selling luxury properties, she vowed to bring investment to communities that should have been already established for years.  


“I began working with people to help them understand that these areas could be worth more with proper investment,” she said. 


Thanks to a colleague who knew about her passion, Latesha was invited to Habitat for Humanity Chicago’s annual benefit in 2016. She found our work interesting, but it wasn’t until the next year, when she stumbled upon Habitat Chicago’s Women Build event, did she start to engage more meaningfully. This annual fundraising and volunteer event took place in West Pullman that year, coincidentally next door to her Roseland neighborhood.  


She jumped in headfirst by creating a fundraising team and joining the Women Build Committee to help plan the event itself. When her build day came around, she loved every second of it. She has fond memories working diligently with her friends and family, taking lots of pride in their work, and having fun while doing it. Latesha remembers that “the appreciation [she] received from the Habitat Chicago Women Build staff made [her] want to contribute and work in whatever capacity [she] could to further their mission.”  


The stars aligned again in 2023 when a fellow member of the Dearborn Realtors Board invited her to volunteer at Homebuyer University’s Resource Day, where they presented on Down Payment Assistance options and available homes to purchase in the area to students learning about the homebuying process. That one day led to an invitation to become a volunteer instructor for a future Homebuyer University class.  


After that, each time Latesha was presented with a volunteer opportunity with Habitat Chicago, she took it. She was motivated because she appreciated the holistic approach Habitat Chicago took to invest in affordable homeownership. It wasn’t just building a house for someone to buy—it was preparing people to be successful homebuyers, offering grants to homeowners and their neighbors to strengthen their communities, and providing affordable home goods to furnish homes and fund the greater Habitat mission.  


A year later, she now provides her skills and experience as Habitat Chicago’s Director of Real Estate Development. Among other things, this position works with architects, civil engineers, and the City of Chicago to get pre-construction development plans in order, as well as works within the focus neighborhood to ensure those plans are wanted and needed in the community.  


“My goal was always to work in areas that needed investment, and Habitat Chicago has provided me an opportunity to do that on a larger scale,” Latesha reflects. 


Volunteers are essential for Habitat Chicago to further its mission, and in Latesha’s case, a single volunteer opportunity was the start of a journey towards deeper and more meaningful involvement with Habitat Chicago. And the best part? Latesha’s partnership with Habitat Chicago allows her to work towards her own big dreams—investment for the disinvested and a world where everyone has a decent place to live.



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