Posted: May 5, 2011
Habitat for Humanity builds a homeowners’ dream house every 10 minutes
By Jessica Powviriya
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — He once dreamed of owning a home while he lived in West Fork, Ark., bunking down in his friend’s Airstream. Away from his homes and friends in Denver, a new home meant a new life. And so he worked to make it a reality. He put in more than 300 hours on his dream – his house – and on the dream houses of others while working for Habitat for Humanity. Joseph Marquez was ready to “restart my life, restart over and do things the right way,” he said.
Marquez doesn’t like to dwell on his past, and neither does Habitat for Humanity. It cares about the future of families who qualify for the nonprofit’s help: those who have lived and worked in Washington County for at least a year, and who fall within the low-income guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Marquez’s story is one that has happened more than 45 times to help nearly 200 northwest Arkansans because of the Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, Ark. They build safe and affordable shelters worldwide, and Habitat for Humanity International has built more than 350,000 houses in more than 3,000 communities.
People who qualify for help can get out of substandard housing into a home that is built purely on donations, volunteer work and Habitat homeowners’ mortgages. The houses are built at no profit and no interest on loans.
“We’re a hand-up, not a hand-out,” said Michelle Davis, volunteer and event coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County. “We take them from a renters’ mentality to the fact that this is their home.”
There are two mortgages, one that covers the cost of the house and another that is the difference of the first mortgage and the market value of the house. Once homeowners pay the first mortgage, the second is forgiven.
Building costs are financed from the new homeowners’ house payments and money earned by fund-raisers. But building a Habitat House is not free for the homeowners in money or labor. The selected family must, in addition to the mortgages, pay off their house with Sweat Equity. Sweat equity is the labor that Habitat homeowners spend in building their houses and the houses of other Habitat homeowners.
“Every time I’m at a build site, or every time I go to a class is a little bit more hours over the top [of my sweat equity], which I don’t mind at all because I’m receiving a great gift,” Marquez said of his house, the 44th house built by Washington County Habitat. “And it’s not just a gift, I have to work for it as well.”
Homeowners do sweat equity after they are selected to be Habitat partners, but before they complete and move into their new houses. For Washington County, the family must do 350 to 400 hours. The main way this volunteer time can be completed is through working on the Habitat houses’ build sites.
A goal of the local affiliate is the education of the Habitat partners. The Washington County Habitat teaches lessons that include budgeting and home improvement. Part of Marquez’s sweat equity was to learn how a foundation comes to be a finished house.
“I got to do the hands-on of building and learn the steps that it takes to complete a house,” Marquez said of his helping other homeowners build their houses. “It’s a great experience to be on the job site while Habitat is building, so if something goes wrong with my house, I know how to repair it.”
Another way homeowners can perform their sweat equity is through volunteering at the ReStore, a discount home improvement center that sells donated building materials at reduced prices.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore
The ReStore is firstly the donation center for the Habitat homes being built or rehabbed. Donated items received are what are installed in the homes. And what is not installed in the houses is sold to the general public, generating more money for the operational costs of Habitat. Although the profits of the ReStore does not directly cover the building costs of the houses, Habitat partners can work Monday through Saturday to quickly accumulate sweat equity hours.
“Some [homeowners] come in and they may have a disability and they can’t be out on a worksite,” Davis explained. “They usually work in the ReStore.”
Washington County staff is limited on their staffing, with only 10 people. All of the committees and board are volunteer-based, and the ReStore and building sites are filled with volunteers, including college students and corporate sponsors.
“The community resources’ of the volunteers and the donations is required for success,” said Anita Zisner, ReStore manager.
Sponsors can donate by giving of their time, skills or money. And Habitat receives donations from corporations, contractors and wholesalers, as well as from people who are remodeling their homes.
“It’s good for both of us. They get a tax-deduction for donating to a non-profit, so it’s sort of a win-win situation,” Zisner said.
An impressive overarching goal for Habitat for Humanity International is the building of Energy Star rated houses by 2012. In a step towards this green initiative, Washington County Habitat installs energy efficient windows and air conditioners and uses smarter building techniques to better seal the houses. Stoves and refrigerators are Energy Star approved and provided by Whirlpool, a national sponsor of Habitat for Humanity that gives free or discounted materials. They also think green while acquiring building lots for the houses. Shorter ends of the house should face east and west, causing the longer sides of the house have less sun exposure.
“We look for this so that it doesn’t heat up the house as much during the summertime and requires fewer windows,” Wendi Jones, Washington County Habitat executive director, said. “By issuing this initiative, Habitat International recognizes that it is an increased cost for the affiliates, so they encourage us to take advantage of the Gifts-in-Kind Program through the corporate sponsors like Whirlpool, Jones said. Also recently, they have allowed affiliates to extend mortgages up to 40 years to make the houses more affordable.
“Habitat International recognizes that we may have some more additional up-front cost,” Jones said, “but homeowners can recover that cost within a year in what they save in utility expenses.”
Ecumenical Christian Housing
Because they are a faith-based organization, the affiliate wants to have more church community but also more corporate involvement, expand outside of the Fayetteville-Springdale area and raise $550,000 in 2011. That potentially covers the cost of five new homes.
“So, that’s our goal: to have five families in their homes this year,” Davis said. “We have to buy some more land but it’s dependent on our funds. And since we’re non-profit and rely on donations, sometimes that can take awhile.”