Habitat for Humanity constructs homes; not just houses

Habitat for Humanity associates work on constructing affordable housing for low income families on Monday.

Troy Alexander

Habitat for Humanity associates work on constructing affordable housing for low income families on Monday.

The Huntington Habitat for Humanity has been providing affordable housing for low income families in the area since its founding in 1989.

With the help of volunteers and local businesses, they have provided 95 families with new houses to date, 92 of which were built from scratch.

CEO David Michaels commended the community in their participation. “Ninety percent of the work done on our houses is done by volunteers,” Michaels said.

After applying, families must go through an extensive screening process that reviews their bills, bank statements and income. If a family’s application is approved, they will then move to a review process with a selection committee. Members of the committee will conduct a home visit.

Michael said there are multiple benefits of going to a family’s home.

“First off, we can see first hand if there is a need for new housing,” Michaels said. “It also allows the family to ask any questions they may have on their turf.”

The only background check that occurs is to see if any applicants are on the sex offender database. Applicants with criminal records are accepted or rejected at the discretion of the board, therefore a record will not disqualify a family immediately.

Michaels said there is a need to judge families on a case-by-case basis.

“It is one thing to do a background check and another to disqualify someone from the process for having a record,” Michaels said.

The opportunity for home ownership is one thing many charities cannot provide and helps makes Habitat for Humanity a unique organization.

“We had one family that was living in a run down house, paying almost 700 dollars a month in rent and another three to four hundred to heat or cool the house respectively,” Michaels said. “We built them a 2 bedroom energy efficient house that cost about 310 dollars a month mortgage wise and we lowered the electric bill to 100 dollars. Right there that family just got 600 dollars more income without an increase in pay. The economic impact is huge.”

Habitat for Humanity essentially becomes the bank for their homeowners, but unlike a bank, can offer zero percent interests on their mortgage. The organization also offers “sweat equity,” meaning those receiving help must volunteer at Habitat and complete a minimum amount of hours before they are allowed to move in.

Michaels said the group has had to foreclose on three houses in the past few years.

“One of the myths we try to dispel is that we give away houses,” Michaels said. “We call it a hand up not a hand out. It is always extremely painful to have to foreclose, but the founder of Habitat for Humanity once said ‘If you aren’t having a foreclosure every now and then, then you aren’t helping the right families.’”

On January 25th, Habitat for Humanity presented the city of Huntington a ceremonial check for $48,000 that had been paid in taxes and municipal fees from families living in their houses.

“A lot of people don’t factor in that economic impact on the community,” Michaels said. “We are also taking vacant lots and rundown houses and flipping them.”

The group has received a National Award and recognition country wide for their program that helps homeless veterans get off of the streets. Habitat for Humanity designed a one-room house suitable for up to two people that is even cheaper than their regular houses.

“We had people from California, Texas and many other states calling asking for our house plan and trying to figure out how in the heck we pulled this off,” Michaels said. “We are trying to expand off this and roll out a new housing initiative that would help a demographic we have never assisted before. This has a huge amount of potential.”

Michaels said he could not divulge any more information, as the program is just in a concept stage, but said the impact on Huntington would be “huge.”

Michaels said Habitat for Humanity can help students and also give them the chance to give back. “College students have plenty of opportunities to donate that they don’t even realize,” Michaels said. “Our Restore takes used furniture and we will pick up anytime between Monday and Friday. We also offer furniture 50 to 80% off for any students who are looking for affordable furniture and all proceeds go right back into Habitat.”

Donations are always accepted and volunteers can contact Habitat’s office for opportunities in construction or retail.

Troy Alexander can be contacted at [email protected]