A lot of people think that Habitat for Humanity builds houses and gives them away. It’s actually a lot more than that to Macon County residents in need. Building houses is just one approach.
Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. After developing and testing their model of Christian outreach through constructing affordable housing in underdeveloped countries, they returned to the United States to address housing needs in the U.S. Since its founding, Habitat has constructed more than 500,000 homes worldwide.
The Habitat for Humanity Macon County (HFHMC) affiliate was incorporated in 1993 as a 501 (c)3 non-profit. Since that time 18 homes have been completed, 14 in Franklin and four in Highlands according to Rick Westerman, executive director. A 19th home is nearing completion for a local family. These homes are built to comply with existing building standards and codes, along with the Standards of Excellence established by HFHI.
The process for selecting partner families (future homeowners) to participate in the Habitat Mission is rigorous. In addition to meeting financial criteria, applicants must meet a series of criteria based on three principles: The family’s need for adequate shelter; the ability to repay a mortgage; and the willingness to partner with HFHMC in constructing the home.
Families are also required to invest 50 “good faith” hours prior to groundbreaking and 450 hours of “sweat equity” in the construction of their home or other activities that support the HFHMC misssion. In addition, families are encouraged to attend sessions designed to help them budget and learn how to make home maintenance repairs enabling them to become self-sufficient and empowered homeowners.
Upon completion, the houses are sold at no profit to the partner families and financed with zerointerest loans. House payments go into a revolving fund at HFHMC which is used to build more houses. The average cost for a HFH house in the southeastern U.S. is more than $75,000 but costs are kept low through donations of some materials and lots of volunteer labor from local churches, civic organizations and companies. At the end of the process, the partner families become just like most of the rest of us with a mortgage to pay and a home to maintain with great pride in what they have helped to accomplish.
In 2007, HFHMC initiated an Outreach Program based on the same principles of Christian service, but focused on solving a different problem. Macon County has a significant population of elderly and disabled individuals who need modifications to their homes, but cannot make the changes themselves. Through the end of 2011, HFHMC has had more than 100 requests for home modifications such as wheel chair ramps, grab bars, and railings to assist the handicapped according to Pete Drevas, Outreach Coordinator. In 2011 alone, HFHMC volunteers put in almost 400 hours on these projects. Just as with home building projects, families must meet rigorous financial criteria to be eligible for this support.
As with many other non-profit organizations that depend on donations from the community, HFHMC has been challenged by the recent downturn in the economy and this has limited their ability to take on projects. Funding to implement the construction and rehabilitation projects, as well as operating expenses, are all funded by local donations rather than from the International Organization. For more information about Macon County Habitat for Humanity and contact information, visit the website at http://www.maconcountyhabitat.org/.
Submitted by John Gladden, grant specialist with HFH.