07 Apr 2022

Habitat’s leading role in building homes, building lives and building futures

By Kevin Lewis  »  Photos by John Patota

Habitat for Humanity expands on “It takes a village to raise a child” to “It takes a village to raise a house” for that child. Everyday somewhere a house is being built by volunteers who ensure that a family or a single person who cannot qualify for a conventional mortgage has a superior dwelling. A less publicized aspect of the organization is the home repair program which replaces roofing and windows for economically impacted elderly or disabled people.

Locally, Habitat for Humanity of the N.C. Sandhills will celebrate 289 completed homes and an almost equal number of home repairs since 1988. Their annual gala is April 23 at the Pinehurst Country Club and is a major revenue provider for Habitat’s mission: To partner with families, volunteers and the community to build houses, communities and future generations. Its volunteer crew encompasses retirees, students, families and the people whose house is being constructed.

The organization gives opportunities for women who want to break the glass ceiling of male-dominated construction trades. Executive Director Amie Fraley and Farrah Newman, Finance and Construction Director, have already cracked that ceiling and encourage women to join them. The ongoing Women Build has been a breakthrough success. Women with construction, engineering, plumbing and electrical skills joined crews in building a house, while others have become enthusiastic volunteers.

Though retirees are a major workforce component, students are increasingly becoming a labor pool. Students in the Civil Engineering Program at Sandhills Community College, student members of Circle K, the SCC chapter of Kiwanis of the Sandhills and SCC staff provide many hours.

Contrary to an often-mistaken belief, the house built is not a prize or gift. Applicants are selected because they are in substandard housing or are in unaffordable circumstances. They must live in Moore, Richmond and Hoke counties for a year, have a stable income for two years, the income to make monthly mortgage payments and income ranging from 30 to 60% of HUD’s area median income. Other criteria include proof of earned income with W2 and Federal Income Tax Return, proof of other income, ability to maintain the home and debt-to-income ratio, a satisfactory credit history, down payment, and proof that they are financially independent.

Personal integrity and cooperation with the organization must be shown by the applicant’s participation in the Homebuyer Education Program, which consists of 15 workshops and an online course, a two-hour counseling session, plus attendance in designated monthly classes. A minimum of 300 hours of “sweat equity” by adults 18 years or older, and 60 hours for teens 16 to 17, must be accumulated building a home. During that time, income is verified every six months, and a criminal background check to exclude sex offenders is made. The next applicant two-night recruitment session is Wednesday, August 30 and Thursday, August 31, 2022.

“I met Amie in networking and told her of my interest in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I was offered a job as finance manager with Habitat in 2017,” says Newman. When offered the job of overseeing the construction department, in addition to keeping her financial managing role, she optimistically said, “How hard can it really be?”

That optimism has only increased. “Today, Habitat for Humanity meets all my core values as a human being: compassion, leadership, opportunities, and building people as well as affordable homes. I am part of a team and organization that appeals to the human need to follow the pursuit of happiness by being supported and empowered to create a future by being given a hand up, not a handout.”

Newman points out that the home repair program saves existing homes from demolition. Some older homes have “good bones” and should be saved.

Both Fraley and Newman are proud that the homes are constructed with extra loving care. Because a Habitat home uses volunteer labor, the cost-cutting sacrifices on quality which a builder of a commercially constructed home must often do, are minimized. The people who will live in the house see every aspect of the construction of the home. Women are particularly sensitive to details in the kitchen and bathroom as well as the placement of appliance connections
and closets.

Land is the biggest problem Habitat faces now. “We are always looking for affordable land,” Fraley shares. Land is scarce and because of that Habitat is being priced out on land which is sold to subdivision developers in Moore County. Another problem is “heir land” owned by several heirs/family members but abandoned. Such property cannot be sold or even donated to Habitat until the county forecloses for
tax reasons.

Fraley thinks of Habitat for Humanity as the nonprofit side of capitalism. And indeed, the houses themselves are a steppingstone for these families into the positive side of capitalism and personal prosperity, the lifechanging foundation of having a home-sweet-home.  sandhillshabitat.org

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