When Teresa Potter received a flyer saying she had been recommended for home ownership, she thought is was a solicitation. She and her daughter lived in an apartment at the St. Michaels Housing Authority, and she thought it unlikely she would be able to afford a home. Despite her reservations, she called the number on the flyer and scheduled a meeting with a committee from Habitat for Humanity.
“I thought half the apartment complex was going to be there,” says Potter, but there was only one other person present. After a rigorous screening process, much of which was done before she even received the flyer, her family was selected to be the next in a long line of families to own a home, thanks to Habitat for Humanity Choptank.
“We have helped 54 families become home owners since we were founded in 1992,” says Nancy Andrew, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Choptank. In order to become a partner family with Habitat, a number of criteria must be met. One of the main requirements is that partner families be able to afford the mortgage payment; therefore they must have a household income of $27,000-$42,000 per year. “We continue to deal with the misconception that Habitat for Humanity works with impoverished people,” says Andrew. “We just can’t do that.”
In addition to income requirements, prospective families must live in substandard housing, that which is in disrepair, overcrowded, unsafe, or too expensive. They must have no more than $1000 in debt, however, and they must be debt free at the closing table, in addition to being able to save $4000 toward closing costs. Finally, they must put in 300-400 hours of “sweat equity.”
An important part of the path to home ownership through Habitat is the work partner families put into building not only their future home but also the future homes of others. “Families learn how houses work,” says Andrew. “They have lived in rental housing and are used to calling someone else to fix problems. Through the process of building, they learn about home maintenance and how to take care of things themselves.”
Teresa Potter has put in 300 hours of manual labor updating the home that will be hers, as well as building other Habitat Choptank homes. “They allow you to pick out the floors, light fixtures, things like that,” says Potter. “They really allow you to make it your own.”
Habitat Choptank is able to provide these sorts of materials to their partner families through some donations, but the bulk of the material is purchased. Funds are raised through traditional means—churches, individuals, businesses, and community groups. However, Habitat Choptank has followed Habitat for Humanity International’s model of opening a Re-Store shop.
The Re-Store, located on Commerce drive in Easton, accepts donations of home building materials, like furniture and appliances, and then re-sells them to the community. “Lowe's has been a great partner,” says Andrew. “They have changed out merchandise and donated the unused goods to us.” The Re-Store has been open for one and a half years and has exceeded expectations. “It looks like we should net enough proceeds to fund one home,” continues Andrew.
One of the things that make Habitat Choptank unique is that the organization finances all of their houses. Currently, the price for one of their homes is $95,000, with all mortgage payments coming directly back to them. This money then goes toward more projects. It is a business model that has helped sustain them even through the economic downturn.
Due to the state of the economy, there are now 800 families on the waiting list for rental housing assistance. Given the right opportunity, some of those families may be able to work with Habitat and one day become homeowners.
Teresa Potter feels fortunate to have been one of those chosen to own a Habitat for Humanity house. “They are the best people,” she says. “When you’re in a certain income bracket, you don’t think you can afford a house. You really never know until you try.” She and her daughter are set to move into their new home at the end of the month. Potter sums up her time working with Habitat this way: “I learned a great deal, not just about building a house, I learned a little bit about everything. It was a great experience.”