‘We offer a hand up, not a handout’


Posted 2/13/18

Four new houses are slated to be built this year by Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, pushing the number of homes on the organization’s roster to 135.

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‘We offer a hand up, not a handout’


Four new houses are slated to be built this year by Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, pushing the number of homes on the organization’s roster to 135.

Tammy Johnson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, spoke recently to the United Way of the Ocoee Rgion’s Women United organization about Habitat, giving an overview of Habitat and its programs – and dispelling a common myth.

“We don’t give away houses,” Johnson said, adding Habitat houses cost $75,000 each to build.

She said homeowners give 300 to 400 hours in “sweat equity,” working either on their own future homes or on other Habitat homes. Also, homeowners go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program to learn how to better handle their finances, and provide their own downpayment for the house.

Natalie McNair, marketing and special events coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, spoke about one family Habitat is working with this year: a single mother with two sons who are sharing a home with a family member and another roommate. The mother sleeps on the couch in the living room while her sons share one of three bedrooms in the house.

“Before she was even accepted she worked hard to save $2,000 for her downpayment,” McNair said, adding that the woman helped her cousin work on her Habitat home a few years ago.

McNair said Habitat families are required to save $2,500 to go toward closing costs, escrow and homeowners insurance for the first year.

Johnson said when Habitat began, people would donate parcels of land for homesites. Over the years, officials have found that building Habitat houses in subdivisions is a more practical plan, Johnson said, mentioning a subdivision called Century Village.

“All four houses are going to be built in Century Village subdivision this year,” she said.

Two houses are Women Build projects, the third will be constructed by Whirlpool employees, and the fourth will be built by several community organizations and volunteers. Women Build teams work for half a day on a house and raise $50 each for Habitat, Johnson said.

Johnson said Habitat has an initial application process for anyone interested in participating in the program. Approved applications go to the Family Selection Committee, which then forwards the applications to the Habitat board of directors. Those accepted into the program then must save for their downpayment, participate in the financial education program and other required classes, and log their required hours of “sweat equity.”

“We offer a hand up, not a handout,” Johnson said.

There are people in the community “who fall under hard circumstances” and this is one way to help them.

Johnson added that while Habitat works closely with City Fields, which works to revitalize the Blythe-Oldfield community, “our main focus is new construction.”

She said there is a waiting list of applicants and construction of Home 132 is set to begin this Spring.

“In a perfect world if we had all the funding we’d build as many houses as we could,” Johnson said, adding Habitat works to be good stewards of the funding Habitat receives.

Family advocates work with participating families to ensure success, although there have been one or two foreclosures over the years, but Habitat works with homeowners so they can avoid foreclosure and keep their houses.

“Out of 131 (Habitat homes built) we have a pretty good success rate,” Johnson said. “We want to see them succeed.”

Johnson said one Habitat homeowner has decided to will her house back to Habitat because she never married and has no children.

Johnson also discussed the Habitat ReStore, which supports Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland’s mission through the sale of donated items at reduced prices. The Habitat ReStore is located at 300 Grove Ave. S.W. in Cleveland. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Johnson noted some Habitat volunteers have been active since the organization began here in the 1990s.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that add up,” she said, referring to a volunteer who cleans and organizes the holiday decorations at the ReStore; the sale of those decorations brings in about $25,000 per year.

Johnson added the North Lee Highway ReStore was closed because the rent amount made it not cost effective to remain there, so both stores were consolidated into one.

Johnson also spoke about Habitat’s concept of Need/Partner/Pay:

• Applicants are assessed for their need for housing. Habitat checks their financial statements and credit scores.

• Applicants are interviewed to make sure they want to partner with Habitat.

• Habitat makes sure the applicants know they will pay for their house.

If applicants are willing to accept all the criteria, they can begin the process leading to Habitat homeownership.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, visit www.habitatofcleveland.org.


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