A lot of people dream about living in a beautiful, hand-crafted tiny house: a cozy, picture-perfect little space that’s both affordable and eco-friendly. Anya Ismail made that dream come true five years ago, and sometimes she still can’t quite believe her good fortune.

Home for Anya is a 212-square foot structure situated on a lovely, wooded lot in the hills outside of Santa Cruz. Anya purchased her tiny house with help from Hebrew Free Loan in 2017, and it’s been a safe haven for her ever since.

“The interest-free First-Time Homebuyer loan literally changed the entire trajectory of my life. Not only did it make it possible for me to live in a home of my own in Santa Cruz, it allowed me to save for retirement and plan for the future … all while continuing to do the work I love.”

Living a bit outside the box comes naturally to Anya, who grew up in rural Vermont where her parents — back-to-the-land hippies — settled before she was born. Anya originally envisioned a career in classical music, and she got her bachelor’s degree in voice at the Manhattan School of Music. But the financial insecurity of life as a musician wasn’t for her, and eventually Anya went back to school to earn a master’s in music therapy.

She started her career as a music therapist in New York and Philadelphia, discovering a gift for bringing comfort and ease to people nearing the end of life. Anya worked with medically fragile children, adults with terminal illnesses, and aging seniors.

Then came a job opportunity at Hospice of Santa Cruz County seven years ago, which brought Anya from New York to California. She had never even visited Santa Cruz before she moved there, but immediately felt like she had landed on “her planet.”

Santa Cruz was a perfect fit for Anya, except for one problem. How would she afford housing, long-term, on a nonprofit salary? The idea of living in a tiny house intrigued her, and she visited a number of commercial tiny home builders, but they were out of her price range. Most banks don’t offer mortgages to buy tiny houses, and personal loans come with higher interest rates and more challenging repayment terms.

When she found a tiny house being sold by a local woman who had built it by hand with her father, Anya cobbled together the money she needed, drawing on her personal savings and small loans from various sources. A First-Time Homebuyer loan from Hebrew Free Loan closed the gap, and Anya’s new home was a done deal.

While some people might find it daunting to fit their entire life into 212 square feet, tiny house living hasn’t felt like a sacrifice to Anya, even during the pandemic when she was working from home. She’s always been a minimalist and feels good in small spaces, and she loves not having to share walls with other people, like she would in an apartment. She’s also thrilled to own her own home free and clear while she’s only in her 40s. Anya finished repaying Hebrew Free Loan earlier this year — the last of the loans she took out to purchase the tiny house — and she’s looking forward to living there for a long time to come.

“The interest-free First-Time Homebuyer loan from Hebrew Free Loan left me in disbelief. I’m still in awe that it was possible, and I’m immensely proud to be part of a community that provides this kind of support.”

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