What is Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from our country and around the world.  Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses worldwide.

Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and/or renovates simple decent houses with the help of the homeowner (partner) families.  Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit, financed with affordable, no-interest loans.  The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund that is used to build more houses.  The local affiliate, Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity, has been in existence since 1993, had is at work on its eighth project.

Habitat is not a giveaway program.  In addition to down payment and monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor, “sweat equity”, into building their house and the houses of others.

The selection process has families in need of decent shelter applying to local habitat affiliates.  A family selection committee chooses homeowners based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their willingness to repay the no-interest loan.

Habitat does not accept government funds for the construction of new houses or for the renovation or repair of existing houses. The majority of our funding comes from individual donors, churches, corporations, foundations, and colleges.

Our founder Millard Fuller sums up the concept of Habitat by saying, “All across the land, transformations are happening.  The names of the people change and the towns and cities are different, but the stories are the same.  Old dilapidated houses change to modest but good solid houses.  New houses are built on formerly vacant land.  Renters become homeowners. Despondency and a sense of hopelessness give way to rejoicing and buoyant hope.  Instability in families is transformed into rock-solid stability.  Poor performance or failure in work or school change to promotions and success.  All because these good people have found a simple, decent place to stand which gives them the chance to move forward.”

How are families chosen for a Habitat home?

First, the family needs to be turned down for a conventional mortgage through the bank and must have a steady source of income.  Second, they must be able to invest 350 hours of “Sweat equity” in work time on their home.  Third, they must be living in substandard housing.

If a family believes they qualify, they should send a letter of need to: Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity, 212 Outlet Way, Greensburg, Pa. 15601. Their letter is forwarded to the Family Selection committee and the process begins.

The applying family is sent a letter with the requirements and an application. They have 30 days to fill out the application and return it to Habitat. When this is complete, the application is reviewed. If they meet the standards for income, they enter the second phase of the process, which includes having previous landlords sign that they made payments on time, securing a statement from their employer and submitting their last two years of income tax return statements. All information remains confidential and helps in the selection process. The applicants must also request a copy of their credit report that they submit to Habitat as well as visit the credit bureau for a counseling session. All of this phase takes up to 90 days to complete.

If they still qualify, they will participate in a home visit with the Family Selection committee to verify substandard housing. Finally the family story is brought to the board of directors for discussion and approval.

As you can see, it is a lengthy process with much thought and prayer.

Once selected and the work begins, the family is right there with the volunteer work crew building their home.

The usual mortgage through Habitat is a comfortable mortgage payment that allows families to accelerate their payoff if they are able. This is not a free gift as many people believe. It takes hard work and determination just to get selected as a home owner and the wait once selected can be one to five years based on the waiting list and the number of families in line.

Nothing happens fast but the outcome of patience is a safe, decent place to live. We help build family character as we build homes.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity Homeownership, please click here.

Eight Myths about Habitat for Humanity

Myth:  Habitat for Humanity gives houses away to poor people.

Fact:  Habitat for Humanity International offers a homeownership opportunity to families unable to obtain conventional house financing—generally, those whose income is 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income. In most cases, prospective Habitat homeowner families make a $500 down payment and contribute 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” on the construction of their home or someone else’s home. Because Habitat houses are built using donations of land, material and labor, mortgage payments are kept affordable.

Myth:  Habitat houses reduce property values in a neighborhood.

Fact:  Low-cost housing studies in the United States and Canada show affordable housing has no adverse effect on other neighborhood property values. In fact, Habitat houses have increased property values and local government tax income.

Myth:  Only African Americans get Habitat for Humanity homes.

Fact:  Habitat builds houses in partnership with those in need—regardless of race, religion or any other difference—who meet three criteria: need; ability to repay the no-interest, no-profit mortgage; and a willingness to partner with Habitat. According to the latest available statistics (through 1997), 33 percent of Habitat homeowners are Anglo; 67 percent are people of color.

Myth:  Habitat for Humanity International dictates policy and practices for every local Habitat organization.

Fact:  Habitat operates through locally governed affiliates with a strong emphasis on grassroots organizations and local autonomy. Habitat affiliates are independent, nonprofit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.

Myth:  Habitat homeowners are on welfare.

Fact:  While some Habitat homeowners receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), many more are working people. Typically their annual income is less than half the local median income in their community.

Myth:  You have to be Christian to become a Habitat homeowner.

Fact:  Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization. However, homeowners are chosen without regard to race, religion or ethnic group, in keeping with U.S. law and with Habitat’s abiding belief that God’s love extends to everyone. Habitat also welcomes volunteers from all faiths, or no faith, who actively embrace Habitat’s goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world.

Myth:  Habitat for Humanity is an arm of the government.

Fact:  Habitat is an ecumenical Christian housing organization. It is neither an arm of the government nor an arm of any church or denomination. It does not accept government funds for the construction of new houses or for the renovation or repair of existing houses. Habitat does accept government assistance for the acquisition of land or houses in need of rehabilitation. Habitat also accepts government help for streets, utilities and administrative expenses, as long as the funds carry no obligations that would limit Habitat’s ability to proclaim its Christian witness.

Myth:  Habitat for Humanity was founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Fact:  Habitat was started in 1976 in Americus, Ga., by Millard Fuller along with his wife Linda. President Carter and his wife Rosalynn (whose home is eight miles from Americus, in Plains, Ga.), have been longtime Habitat supporters and volunteers who help bring national attention to the organization’s house-building work. Each year, they lead the Jimmy Carter Work Project to help build houses and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.

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