By Marilyn Pribus –
What’s the best thing about Habitat for Humanity? “My children have a place,” declares Sheron Sinclair, a Habitat homeowner for more than two years.
Habitat for Humanity® of Greater Charlottesville is all about having a place. In more than 25 years of homebuilding, this remarkable effort has constructed more than 170 dwellings in our area, living up to Habitat’s stated vision of eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide and making adequate, affordable shelter a matter of conscience and action.
Habitat’s vision: Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.
“I was taking my daughter to kindergarten at Clark [Elementary School],” recalls Sinclair. “I started talking with a lady about how she was getting ready to move into their Habitat house.” Sinclair hadn’t heard about Habitat and it sounded good to her.
People interested in applying for Habitat housing must go through an application process to learn about the home ownership program. Selection is based on three primary factors: need, willingness to partner, and ability to pay.
“I filled out an application and was turned down because I was doing too well,” Sinclair says. She was living in a decent apartment and she had a job. “Then I was in a car accident and that took me out of my job and apartment. I had to move in with friends in Lovingston, but a bad thing turned out to be a good thing.”
When she reapplied, she was accepted as a Partner Family.
How Does Habitat Work?
Habitat sells homes to qualified Partner Families at no profit with a zero-interest mortgage. In turn, mortgage payments go to the Fund for Humanity to build more homes. Potential partners must attend classes for training in critical areas such as financial planning and home maintenance. They must also donate many hours of “sweat equity” that can be working in the Habitat office, the Habitat Store, or actually building homes.
Finally, Habitat must know the family can afford the mortgage on top of other bills. Applicants must provide copies of tax returns and income documents. If there are existing debts, there must be a plan to pay them off. (Habitat’s credit counselling program works with families with poor credit.)
Strong Volunteer Force
“We all want a cozy nest to call home,” points out Habitat volunteer Judy Johnson. “We put on a hard hat to work with others helping to put a roof over a house which becomes a home for someone and their family.”
Workers do what they know how to do or learn how to hammer, work with sheetrock, and perform other tasks with the support of the staff. Beyond that, says Johnson, it’s a wonderful experience. “When you share a day of working, you also share stories, laugh, maybe cry. You are empowered and so is the family and all the other volunteers.
“We’re often building for a single mama like Sheron,” Johnson continues. “We’re giving support to affordable housing for others who provide the sweat equity in building and carry on by being responsible for the mortgage. It’s just another way the personal is political.”
Benefit to Community
“Charlottesville REALTORS® are all about housing,” declares CAAR President Anthony McGhee of Assist2Sell First Rate Realty. “We do anything we can to help with affordable housing, even if it doesn’t mean a paycheck for us. Our overarching wish is that everyone has a home. It’s just part of our belief system.”
In fact, McGhee says, increasing affordable housing and enabling ownership benefits our entire area so local real estate agencies support Habitat with substantial donations. In addition, many members don a hard hat and pick up a hammer or paint brush to help with home construction.
Habitat has developed a New Paradigm for Affordable Housing—a forward-looking approach allowing construction of more homes to a higher standard on less land.
A shining example is Southwood where plans are well under way to develop the 120-acre mobile home park now home to nearly 350 trailers and 1,500 residents. These residents won’t be displaced during the construction phase and when completed, Southwood will be a thriving, mixed-income, mixed-use community and a national model for trailer park conversion.
Habitat’s Bottom Line
“For me,” says volunteer Johnson “Habitat is social justice in action where everyone is equal and committed to a common cause.”
For homeowner Sinclair, now working at Wegman’s, it’s even more. “I’ve done a lot of speaking about Habitat. My daughter, myself, and a few other Habitat Partner Families were on stage for a fund-raiser at The Paramount with [notable Charlottesville musician] Terri Allard and her band to sing the ‘National Habitat’ song she wrote.”
Above all, she loves having a home for her children. “The sweat equity was 300 hours required,” she says, “but I made a bet with myself to give 1,000 hours and I did! I was on construction sites with a nail gun and different saws.”
“The whole entire Habitat experience is beyond words,” she continues. “I encourage everyone and anyone to go swing a hammer or help in the office or store. I guarantee that if you put your heart into it—whether you’re building your own home or just being an awesome volunteer—you will never be the same.”
She emphasizes that it’s empowering. “I worked on ten houses and then mine,” she concludes. “When it’s your own, there’s really no words for that one. It’s a you-made-it kind of thing. You can start dreaming.”
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville.