Habitat for Humanity

“Hi, honey, I’m home.”  Maybe no other English noun connotes as many good feelings as the word “home”.  It is warmth, comfort, relaxation, family, pride of ownership, and for those of us lucky enough to have one of our own, our first and most significant financial investment, so this week I want to highlight a couple of organizations that help folks get, and stay, in their homes.

Most of you are familiar with the good work of Habitat for Humanity.  Who can forget the image of Jimmy Carter swinging a hammer?  Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat has built nearly 300,000 houses around the world in 3,000 communities, providing 1.5 million people with safe, decent and affordable shelter.  Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner families. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable loans. The average cost of a home in US is $60,000 with mortgages ranging from 7 to 30 years.  The low cost is because they are sold at no profit.

So who gets one?  Generally, the family income is 30% to 50% of the area’s median income.  In 2004, the Census Bureau reports the median income of Thurston County was $52,000 so, in our area, this means a family income between $15,600 and $26,000.  Potential homeowners contribute $500 down payment and will spend between 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” in the construction.  For more information about what’s happening here, you can visit the South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity website at http://spshabitat.org/.  If you’re shopping for building materials, I recommend their ReStore at 210 Thurston Ave NE in Olympia (next door to a very nice furniture store).

Of course, as every homeowner knows, there’s always something to do around the house (I’m doing pretty well, my own list is down to three dozen things) and not everyone can keep up with the repairs and maintenance, especially when we become older or disabled.  Rebuilding Together is a national nonprofit organization that helps disabled, aging, veterans and those displaced by a national disaster, remain in their homes for as long as possible.  Their mission is to help people live in warmth, safety and independence. To give you a sense of the need, there are 24 million low-income homeowners in America and that number is growing.

In 2007, 300,000 volunteers worked on over 9000 houses.  Typical repairs may include safety bars and ramps but include everything a house needs, including repairing broken doors and windows, furnaces, roofing, electrical work, etc.

Homeowners must be low-income and elderly, disabled, or families with children, and unable to do the work themselves.  The selection process takes place locally, within national guidelines.  All repairs are free to the homeowner with both time and materials donated.  For more information about what is happening in Thurston County, visit http://www.rebuildingtogethertc.org/.

I’ve worked on a couple of Habitat homes and it has always been a great experience.  Both these organizations can use your help, both in time and/or money and, yes, these are both tax deductible charities.  With so great a need, it can be difficult to decide whom to help. I strongly recommend the Charity Navigator at http://www.charitynavigator.org which evaluates and rates the effectiveness and administrative overhead of thousands of different charities.  Both Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together got their highest rating of 4 out of 4 stars.