Building Better Homes, Building Better Lives
Crime in the Long Acres neighborhood of Raleigh was bad, and getting worse by the day. Drug dealers and abandoned houses were part of the daily landscape. But all that changed when Habitat for Humanity of Wake County got involved in 2010.
The nonprofit ministry spearheaded a partnership to revitalize the area, and by 2012 real change was underfoot with the neighborhood experiencing a 52% drop in crime. Long Acres is one of the many success stories that Habitat for Humanity of Wake County has produced in the Triangle area of North Carolina. The nonprofit’s goal is simple: build safe, decent, affordable homes so that low-income residents can achieve self-reliance.
“We believe that everybody ought to have the opportunity to have good housing,” said Kevin Campbell, who serves as President and CEO of Habitat’s Wake County chapter. “Our program is built around that opportunity. It’s not a give-away program.”
Since the Wake County chapter was founded in 1986, the nonprofit has partnered with more than 5,000 volunteers annually to build homes for 410 deserving families. The foreclosure rate of new homeowners assisted by Habitat is less than 2 percent.
It’s a mission that’s changing lives in Wake County and around the globe, one home at a time. Since 2004, the John William Pope Foundation has been a partner with the ministry.
Securing affordable, safe housing can be a challenge for low-income residents in Wake County. The median home value between 2009-2013 was $229,000, and average monthly rent for an apartment approached $800. For many families, those prices are a barrier to housing.
Habitat targets residents who earn 25%- 60% of the average median income for the county and offers homes typically priced around $100,000.
“With homeownership, the key is stability for the family, so their kids can be stable in a school, for instance,” Campbell said. “That stability carries over into the community, because you now have stakeholders. The more there are, the chances are that deterioration won’t happen.”
Applicants are required to show proof of income and go through a series of interviews, including a visit by Habitat staff to their current home to meet family members and assess the family budget. Prospective homeowners must prove that their current living conditions are overcrowded, substandard, too expensive, or unsafe.
Once approved, families are required to put in 250 “sweat equity” volunteer hours, working on their own home or the home of a fellow Habitat applicant. “We don’t see ourselves as the builder and them as the customer,” Campbell said. “We see ourselves as partners working together to build their house. That’s why we have our sweat equity commitment.”
Family support workshops that prepare individuals for the challenges of homeownership are another critical part of the process. Coursework includes tips for improving credit scores, financial planning, home maintenance, home security, and conflict resolution skills.
As an added bonus, Habitat Wake also operates a ReStore, which sells donated and used building materials that are similar to those offered by a mainline home improvement store. Proceeds benefit the housing mission.
Barbara Gotay, a native of Puerto Rico who moved to the United States at the age of 22, is one of Habitat’s many success stories. Before applying to Habitat, Barbara hadn’t met any success obtaining a home loan. Her credit was good — she just didn’t have enough of it. “Every day, when I go to bed, I say, ‘Thank you, God, for letting me have this day so that I can keep working and can have a place safe for my kids,” she said. (Read Barbara’s incredible story here.)
Leaving something for the next generation also is important to Ricky Mitchell. As the single father of two teenagers, Ricky works as a landscape technician for the state. It’s a step he took to piece his life back together after he left prison about two decades ago.
He was approved by Habitat and began working, along with other volunteers, on his house. He moved in just before Christmas 2011.
“My son and daughter are my priority,” he said. “I want to leave something behind for them when I am gone, something my parents weren’t able to do.”
A global calling
Campbell emphasizes that Habitat has a global focus. For every house that Habitat volunteers build in Wake County, the nonprofit commits resources to build one in Honduras. The Wake County chapter has started sending teams to Honduras to help with construction.
In total, nearly 80 percent of Habitat’s work is done outside the United States. Since Habitat was founded in 1976, it has built over 400,000 homes and served over 1 million families (a total of 5 million people).
Campbell was originally drawn to work for Habitat because of that vision — and because of his Christian faith.
“I felt very much a calling to be in a role that could help people who are in need,” he said. “The good we do is tangible. Every day, you feel like something good has happened. It’s great to live in a place where the community supports affordable housing, and to work for Habitat. I just get to touch so many parts of the community. We hang out with everyone, from low-income individuals to CEOs. You get to interact with so many levels in the community.”