3 years and 20,000 volunteers later, Metro Denver Habitat for Humanity completes its largest new affordable housing development

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Kids peer through a screen door at Hawa Haji’s home in Habitat for Humanity’s Sheridan Square neighborhood, June 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver calls Sheridan Square the largest new development in its 40-year history.

Hawa Haji and her family call their house along Sheridan Square's narrow, quiet streets her father's legacy.

Last September, Haji's father Mohamud Fai died of a stroke at the age of 50, about a month after moving into the home he helped build.

"If he was living now, he'd still be volunteering for Habitat," Haji said. "That's how much he enjoyed doing stuff with Habitat."

She said her father would have been ebullient at the celebration Habitat planned Sunday to mark the completion of her neighborhood of 63 two-, three- and four-bedroom homes for low-income families near Sheridan High School.

Hawa Haji speaks to a reporter outside her home in Habitat for Humanity's Sheridan Square neighborhood, June 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In a statement, Habitat said some 20,000 volunteers helped build Sheridan Square and more than 350 adults and children will live there. Funders for the project included the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, Arapahoe County Housing and Community Development Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The nonprofit began building Sheridan Square in 2016 and homeowners have been moving in in phases as their homes have been completed. The last homeowners will be moving in this summer.

To get a home in Sheridan -- or any Habitat project -- buyers must meet income qualifications, attend buyer education classes, pay closing costs, make monthly mortgage payments and contribute 200 hours of labor to their and other Habitat houses. Volunteers who are not buying homes also contribute to Habitat projects.

Haji said her father and her mother Sahara Makaria each put in more than 200 hours. She said her father loved working on the homes of his neighbors and encouraging them to pursue the dream of homeownership he shared.

"I didn't know he could build a house," she said. "He surprised me."

The father of 12 had a stroke before the one that killed him. Haji said the first stroke did not stop Fai from working on Sheridan Square homes or continuing his job as a hotel housekeeper.  Haji said he told her: "Until I accomplish my dream, nothing can stop me."

Fai was from war-torn Somalia and brought his family to the United States more than a decade ago from a Kenyan refugee camp. They initially settled in a Denver Housing Authority apartment, Haji said.

Haji was living in Arizona with her own family while her parents were building their home. Her father shared progress in videos and photographs he took with his mobile phone and messaged to her or in video chats.

Hawa Haji displays a photo of her mother working in Habitat for Humanity's Sheridan Square neighborhood, June 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

One of her sisters posted a family video of move-in day on a GoFundMe site set up to help the family raise money to keep up mortgage payments after Fai's death. In the video, Fai can be seen turning the keys in the red front door.

Haji moved back from Arizona to support her mother after her father's death. She said her mother was at first unsure she should remain in the house. Haji told her mother to stay.

"This is the dream home of your husband," Haji said she told her mother. "He always wanted you to live in a peaceful place."

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