In a dark run-down apartment complex on Horton Street, 17-year-old Hon Ksor and her family live on the third floor.
Trash lay in stairwells and the lamps lights have burned out.
The apartment has two bedrooms and two mattresses – one for her parents and the other for she and her 15-year-old sister – and one bathroom. Her 13-year-old brother sleeps on top of a comforter on the floor behind a wall with a small space not big enough to fit a mattress.
It’s an upgrade from the small space they lived in Pliehrom, a small village in Vietnam, three years ago. The space had one room, one mattress and a lamp.
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For six family members.
“Only rich people have rooms,” she said in broken English. “Poor people don’t have rooms.”
Hon and her family are Montagnard refugees from Vietnam, who don’t speak much English. By New Year’s they’ll upgrade again, this time to four rooms with their new home, built through Habitat for Humanity.
The new home, located in Maybook Crossings in Raleigh, is a single-family home and is the 12th home that Habitat Wake has built in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is a mix of privately-developed houses as well as Habitat homes. The purchase of the home was sponsored by the Catholic Coalition, which pledged $40,000, and an anonymous donor, who pledged $60,000.
The family heard about the program through a friend. People wanting to buy a home through Habitat for Humanity go through an application process.
As part of the program, they spend 250 hours helping to build their own home. The house was built in three months. To be eligible, they must earn between 20 and 60 percent of the median income and have demonstrated an affordable housing need, which is typically that they are overcrowded, living in unsafe conditions or they are paying too much money for living expenses, said Nancy Bromal, the director of Habitat Wake’s annual fund and communications.
Hon said her parents have been looking to own their own house to have a bigger living space. The Palms, their current neighborhood, is also getting ready to be torn down.
“We’re very excited,” Hon’s father, Nuat Kpa, said in his native language. “We’ve always wanted to have a bigger space.”
In Vietnam, Montagnards were controlled by the Vietnamese government.
Hon’s father, Nuat Kpa, came first, moving to the United States in 2002 to make a better life for his family.
“There’s no freedom for Montagnard people,” Kpa said. “The Montagnard people aren’t allowed to go to church. The Vietnam people don’t like the church. Not good. Over here, if you want to go to church you can go to church. If you don’t, you can stay home and sleep. Over there, no.”
Kpa, who cuts yards for the Town of Garner, had to leave his family behind.
“We (couldn’t) come because if we go with him, if we tried to escape from Vietnam, we couldn’t escape from that because (there were) of a lot of people,” Hon said of her family. “And my family, I have a little brother, he was a baby at that time.”
Hon, her sister, brother and mother escaped five years ago to Cambodia, leaving their oldest sister behind. Her oldest sister, who is now 26, has two younger children and couldn’t travel with them.
Hon and her family spent a year in Cambodia until their papers were complete for travel to the U.S. When their papers were complete they had to go back to Vietnam for a year before they could travel to the U.S.
They arrived in 2011, speaking no English. Hon and her sister Hai go to Broughton High School. Hon is in 11th grade and her sister is in 9th grade. Their brother attends Martin Middle School and is in the 7th grade.
Religion is important to the Ksor-Kpa family. They are Christians. in Vietnam, they would sometimes sneak to church.
But in Vietnam if it was found out that they were going to church or found they owned a Bible they could go to jail.
“The government could search your homes,” Hon said. “And everything would be torn apart. We don’t have the power to stop them. They can do anything they want.”
Hon said the family was caught one day going to church. The government let them off with a warning, but searched their house regularly afterward. Money remains tight and the language barrier is still rough for the Ksor-Kpa family. But they say it’s still better to live in freedom.
“It is scary in Vietnam,” Hon said. “So we had to leave.”
Now they can go to church whenever they want and as of December 13 they own the home they always dreamed of.
“Now I can finally have my own room,” Hon’s sister Hai said. “I’ve never had one before. I’ve always slept with my family.”