Affordable housing helps veteran start clothing company

Tommy Martin's family moved into a community for veterans along Centre Pointe Parkway in Saugus two years ago. Austin Dave/The Signal

Tommy Martin served in the U.S. Army for six years before moving to California from Florida.

“I just wanted something different from where I grew up,” Martin said.

He then “played catch up by going back to school” and went on to get three bachelor’s degrees in marketing, business law and design.

Martin and his wife were living in San Francisco and looking for Veteran Affairs housing benefits a couple of years ago, when they stumbled upon the Santa Clarita Veteran Enriched Neighborhood.

A total of 78 single-family homes were being built by Homes 4 Families, a nonprofit dedicated to helping create affordable housing for veterans.

“(My wife) grew up in Santa Clarita, and didn’t want to move back, but God works in mysterious ways,” Martin said.

Veterans who applied for the houses had to have been honorably discharged and fall into a certain income bracket while disabilities and the number of dependents were also taken into consideration.

“This is a community with the idea that we’re taking a low-income veteran and moving them and their family into the middle class,” said Donielle DeLeon, director of corporate and community engagement at Homes 4 Families.

The Martins were accepted into the program in April 2016, and quickly got to work completing the 500 hours of “sweat equity” required of them by Homes 4 Families. Many choose to come out and help build their own homes for most of those hours.

“It’s cool to get to see your home built from the ground up,” Martin said. “You can say, ‘I put that wall in, I did that or that was me,’ and you can put your own little stamp in your home as you’re building it. You also get to know your neighbors and their stories. There’s no other area where you can say that your neighbor helped build your house.”

Phase two was completed in October 2016, allowing Martin and 23 others to move into their new homes.

Now, Martin owns his own business. “Faith Defines Us” is an online Christian apparel brand that, according to Martin, is “more than just selling clothes, it’s like a ministry.”

Tommy Martin owns Faith Defines Us, a Christian apparel brand, and puts words like “strength” and “hope” on shirts, then finds a Bible verse to go with the word. Austin Dave/The Signal

“All the designs are done by me, and then it’s my job to find a verse that goes with the word,” Martin said. “So I actually have to read the Bible and figure out what He’s trying to say, and then put that on a shirt.”

Martin attributes his success to his affordable housing and low mortgage costs.

“There’s no other place where you can buy a home at cost, especially in California,” Martin said. “That’s a blessing.”

Martin hopes to continue to grow his business, and is looking to open a retail store here in Santa Clarita.

“This program has definitely helped everyone in the community get ahead, not just me,” Martin said. “And it has helped a lot of people get to where they should be.”

Now, construction at the veteran community is wrapping up as the finishing touches are put on the nine remaining homes in the neighborhood.

“It’s cool having veterans living together,” Martin said. “We all have that common experience.”

Over the past four years, 69 veteran families, including the Martins, have moved into their homes while the few remaining are set to move in on May 1.

Homes 4 Families has already broken ground on its next project and is set to build 56 homes in Palmdale for veterans, according to DeLeon.

“It’s a special thing when you have a neighborhood that’s truly supporting one another,” DeLeon said.

Brailey Franco, general site superintendent, agreed: “There’s something special being built here — this is truly the American dream.”

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