Habitat for Humanity is known for its mission of building houses, but now the nonprofit aims to build communities.
June was Homeownership Month, and organizations including Habitat and the Interfaith Housing Alliance spent the month working to help low-income residents and families become owners.
For Habitat for Humanity International, one way to better assist residents was to move away from its model of building single-family houses across the countryside. Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County was asked to be part of the advocacy program, said Executive Director Ron Cramer. Instead, Habitat wants to build smaller housing units around a patch of open space, called pocket parks.
The idea is not unique to Habitat. Key gardens are scattered across London, with housing surrounding the gated gardens. But unlike those found in England, the housing units surrounding the shared green space would be small houses, Cramer said.
Habitat plans to start small, with four houses planned for the fall and early 2020. Once the four pilot dwellings are built, the nonprofit will work to build houses in groups of 12, Cramer said. As with all Habitat projects, the houses will be built by volunteers, which reduces the purchase price.
The first four are planned for Thurmont. Habitat will also look at areas in Brunswick, Emmitsburg and the city of Frederick — areas with large Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed populations, he said.
Homeownership has its advantages, Cramer said, because people tend to spend a smaller percentage of their paycheck on mortgage payments than on rent, while also building equity. Under Habitat’s plan, homeowners would spend about 30 percent of their salaries on their mortgage.
“Maybe a touch more,” Cramer said. “Hopefully, a touch less.”
New homes are just too expensive for some, especially in Frederick, where housing prices are pushing people out of the city, Cramer said. But the ones with Habitat will be cheaper. Being able to own a home also provides a sense of community.
“People take pride in what they own and where they live,” Cramer said. “And so creating that homeownership piece isn’t about putting [in] someone that’s not going to take care of or like the neighborhood, because they own and have a piece of a property. They’re an owner as well, so they’re going to take ownership and care of the community and be a part of the community they live in because they want to be there for a long time.”
The homes are meant for seniors, young couples and single people, he said. Older people still want to own a home, but many are downsizing.
Homeownership is a goal of many of the housing organizations in the county, including the Interfaith Housing Alliance, which offers a home repair program to help people reach ownership.
The alliance’s purchase repair program works with people to get them into houses by helping them buy properties that need repairs, said Carol Riggles, homeownership program manager.
“The more you spend on a basic need like housing, the less you have to spend on other basic needs,” Riggles said.
The Interfaith Housing Alliance purchases homes. The houses are inspected beforehand so that the alliance and the buyer have an idea of the cost, Riggles said.
“We’re looking for homes that have good structure and good bones, I guess you call it, so it doesn’t become a money pit,” she said.
Those moving into homes get loans through the repair program, with most clients qualifying for $200,000, she said. Those using the program do not need to have a down payment, but they must put in 100 hours of sweat equity, which takes about three months.
Clients go shopping with real estate agents to select the houses, said Ron Morris, vice president of construction and development.
House repairs range from paint touch-ups to replacing doors, depending on the participants and their skills. The alliance will help with repairs, Morris said.
Like Habitat, the Interfaith Housing Alliance works to get people in homes to help give them a sense of stability, said Vivian Duran, a housing specialist with the alliance. Homeowners pay less than when they rented, and the home is theirs. There’s no danger of being evicted.
“You can make it very personal, and it’s your personal space to enjoy life with family, friends, and make it your own,” Duran said.