Ashe County Habitat for Humanity formed last year in response to the crisis in affordable housing. Steering committee members were shocked to find local people living in conditions that included dirt floors and trailers held together with duct tape. Families that lose their homes to fire have few resources to recover in a community of soaring prices for land and building materials and declining job opportunities.
“Our goal is to provide affordable housing for everyone in Ashe County,” said Tracy-Lynn Schuster, steering committee member for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity. “Land prices are going through the roof and people can’t afford homes. The beauty of Habitat for Humanity is that they work with a person and try to help them economically. Help them develop something they can afford and teach them ways to manage their money and the investment of their home.” That includes keeping up their home with care and maintenance, and using what they’ve learned to help others.
Once a person or family is chosen to participate in home ownership through Habitat for Humanity, they put in what is called “sweat equity hours,” taking part in physically building their own home and helping build homes for others. This is a way for them to appreciate the assistance they’ve been given and pass it on. “Habitat is not a giveaway program,” states the program’s website fact page. “In addition to a down payment and the monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor - sweat equity - into building their Habitat house and the houses of others.”
“Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner (partner) families. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable loans. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses. Mortgage length varies from 7 to 30 years.”
As a worldwide grassroots movement, Habitat for Humanity International has built more than 225,000 houses, working in 90 countries, providing more than one million people in over 3,000 communities with safe, decent and affordable housing. The cost of these homes ranges from around $800 in developing countries to an average of about $60,000 in the United States.
Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. People of all races, religions and backgrounds are invited to work together to build houses for families in need.
Habitat’s work is accomplished at the community level by affiliates, which are independent, locally run, nonprofit organizations. These affiliates coordinate all aspects of Habitat in their own community through volunteers, and that is just what is happening in Ashe County.
The steering committee for creating Ashe County Habitat for Humanity has been meeting on the issue and is currently working on the process of applying to Habitat for Humanity International to become an affiliate. The committee expects to have the first draft of its application completed by early May in anticipation of the application deadline in January 2009. HFHI is the governing body for the affiliates and must approve all applications, Schuster said. “Once we become an affiliate, then we can make plans to build a house.”
As part of their dedication to becoming an affiliate, the Ashe County Habitat for Humanity program must raise $3,000 as a show of community support. Anyone interested in helping the committee achieve affiliate status can make a tax deductible donation either locally or to the international organization in Ashe County’s name. Donations can be sent to: Ashe County Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 392, West Jefferson, NC 28694 or Financial Resources, Habitat for Humanity International, 121 Habitat Street, Americus, GA 31709. Designate the donation for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity.
“We also need volunteers to help with the beginning stages, fundraising, public relations, and family support and selection,” Schuster said. “You can contact me at 384-2398 if interested and get more information from the website at www.ashehabitat.org.”
The steering committee will meet again on Wednesday, April 30 at Smoky Mountain Barbecue in West Jefferson at 6 p.m. Anyone interested in helping with the organization is invited to attend.