Over Easy: Habitat Homes for Deserving Families

Most people are familiar with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for families using mostly volunteer labor and often donated or discounted materials. President Jimmy Carter did a lot to make people aware of the good work they do by his involvement with this fine organization. In addition to building homes, Habitat “deconstructs” homes and uses the recovered materials in other building projects. Finally, Habitat operates ReStores that are run by volunteers, and that accept contributions of a variety of new or recycled household items (paint, flooring, light fixtures, etc.) that they then resell to the public.

Hanging siding Habitat House

Habitat Build (yes, one of these women is me!)

I recently worked on a Habitat house for the second time (the first time was many years ago).

This particular project was designated a Women Build home, with a requirement that 75% of the volunteers must be women (men are NOT prohibited). There were both men and women on the site with construction expertise who could coach us and demonstrate proper use of power tools and construction techniques. (I had never put up exterior vinyl siding or used a table saw, but it isn’t difficult with proper coaching!)

The home I worked on has an interesting history. In 2012 a freaky tragic accident took the life of a woman when a young drunk driver lost control of her car and smashed into a house on a corner lot, hitting it so hard that half of the house was demolished and the tenant, a 57 year old woman who had fallen asleep watching TV on the couch in her living room, was killed.

[The driver] reportedly attempted to turn the car southbound, but instead hit a fire hydrant and drove straight into the living room. Officials said the fire hydrant was hit with such force that it flew through the wall of the home and out the other side.

The woman who died in the tragedy rented the home, and subsequently the wrecked house was razed, and the owner of the property donated it to Habitat. Volunteers now are building a new small 3-bedroom house, of a size and style that blends with the neighborhood, that a hard-working young single mother with two active boys soon will own and occupy.

This is how Habitat for Humanity works, from the local (St. Joseph County, IN) Habitat website.

Habitat finances the building of homes through individual and corporate sponsorship and much of the labor is donated by area volunteers. Qualified families invest hundreds of hours in educational classes, on Habitat worksites, and eventually in the building of their own home.

Families purchase their home at the cost of the materials and at zero percent interest. Monthly mortgage payments are not only affordable, but fuel the building of other homes in our community.

To qualify, applicants must have income within a minimum-maximum range, depending on family size. The woman who will own this home has an annual income between $19,450 (the minimum for any size family) and $30,000 (the maximum for this mother with two boys).

Habitat homes are not “giveaways” in any sense. The potential homeowner must contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity” to his/her home, by working on other Habitat projects as well as their own, and must complete a training program. The new owner of this home was on site and working with us, despite the fact that she works two jobs and has two active elementary-age sons. It was rewarding to meet the woman who will occupy the home we were building. Many volunteers “autographed” the interior of the home, putting inspirational messages on the studs and other interior components that will later be covered up by the drywall – but not before she’ll be able to read them and perhaps take photos.

“Autograph” from a Habitat Volunteer to the New Owner

Volunteer group “shifts” are limited in size, and are scheduled 3 or 4 days a week during the main construction phase. Often employees of area businesses organize Habitat work days affiliated with their employer, and even wear identifying T-shirts. If you are so inclined, I encourage you to look for a Habitat home building project in your area, and donate a few hours of your time. No expertise is needed, only a willingness to work. All tools are provided, along with (as appropriate) work gloves, hard hats, safety goggles, etc. and plenty of patient instruction. Check out Habitat for a great volunteer project. You’ll be glad you did!

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