By Lauri Lee
Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just build homes; it builds community. The future homeowner is joined by businessmen, students, retirees and neighbors all volunteering together to make a structure that will become a home. “But, the house is a by-product of what we do. Habitat is really about being an agent of change,” said Perry Eckton, CEO for Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.
“There are many benefits to home ownership. A home provides a safe, stable place for children. Kids who live in a home do better in school and participate in more after school activities. Many Habitat families say their son or daughter would not have gone on to college if they had not had a safe place to live,” said Cheryl McCollom, who has worked in communications at Habitat for five years.
Habitat for Humanity is a nationwide organization. In Dane County, Habitat has partnered with 190 families over the past 24 years. A number of their projects have been on the Northside, the largest at Northport Commons where 17 single-family homes replaced the old Moose Lodge and four to six more units are possible in the next few years. The Northside just welcomed a new family when Temeika Butler and her three children moved into their new home on Mar. 21. The most recently approved project will be at the Brennan’s Market site, and Pizza Hut, which has relocated to a nearby location.
Habitat will build in a neighborhood where three things are present: community support, available resources like land and building materials, and a need or desire for the housing they produce.
Habitat never gives a home away. “Habitat families must help build their home, volunteering up to 325 hours for a single parent to 375 hours for two parents. A Habitat home is not an entitlement,” Eckton said. “Families have to provide a modest down payment. They pay a mortgage that is 25 percent of their gross income, an amount that includes principle, taxes and insurance, but not interest,” he said.
“It’s the interest free loan, plus having used volunteers to build the house, that makes it more affordable,” McCollom said.
The ideal Habitat family has been renting long term and wants to own a home, but doesn’t have the resources or the credit criteria to purchase. Habitat bases its selection on “what a particular family has done in the past to improve themselves,” McCollom said. A strict application process is in place and a family that isn’t chosen can improve their standing and apply again. “Some apply two to three times before they make it through. But by then they are solid,” McCollom said.
The homes Habitat volunteers build are decent, simple and affordable, Eckton said. Habitat homes have the same value of the homes around them. “Habitat has worked out a way to layer the financing so the payment becomes affordable to the family. The home that cost less to build is assessed at the same value after the interest savings and personal labor investment is factored in. A Habitat house is taxed just as the neighbor’s $200,000 home is taxed. Everyone is paying taxes to the school district, the city and the community. The initial Habitat payment is just more affordable,” Eckton said.
“We never say that we build a house for a family, we say that we build a house with a family,” McCollom said. “They’re helping to build it, and in the meantime, we’re all building community.”