Week 4: Morris Habitat for Humanity

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500 two by fours, 50 gallons of paint and 150 pounds of nails build an average 1,200 sq-foot Habitat For Humanity (HFH) house. Those raw materials transform lives and bring security, hope and a sense of pride to needy families. The Dover site has 4 houses being built simultaneously, one of which is for an Army Veteran whose military resume includes participation in Desert Storm (Iraq) and battles in Afghanistan.

Our primary tasks as volunteers that day were to install the kitchen countertops, cut out the hole for the sinks and tile the backsplashes in all 4 homes. Almost none of the volunteers Kim and Jimmy 2had experience with any of these tasks but that didn’t phase Jimmy Lombardo, our on-site HFH Construction Supervisor, who started the day with a tour of the houses, information about HFH and an overview of the families who will own the homes. From there it was time to get to work. I was happily surprised at how hands-on it was! With Jimmy’s guidance, by the end of the day I felt confident with both a tile saw and a jigsaw (neither of which had I touched prior to that day). I am probably now over-confident in my readiness to rip out my kitchen backsplash and re-tile!

I was also surprised to learn just how cooperative and community-based the projects were. Almost all of the supplies for the homes were donated by local businesses (or local branches of national businesses) – from insulation and windows to paint, doors, hardware, etc., down to the drawings/plans for the homes which were donated by a local architect. Even the lots for the homes were donated by a local bank. It was pretty amazing to realize that the majority of work is truly completed by volunteers and, when a contractor is needed, Morris HFH hires only local.

So, How Does Habitat for Humanity Actually Work?

The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development says a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom IMG_2933apartment anywhere in the United States. This means within each of our communities there are good, hardworking people living in substandard housing and/or having to make difficult choices between basic necessities. HFH helps address these housing needs at a local level. The Army Veteran who will own one of the Dover homes is a perfect example. Upon leaving the Army and returning to his wife and daughter in Morris County, it took time to secure the $14/hour full-time position he currently has. With rent for their 2-bedroom garden apartment running over $1,400 a month, 60% of the family’s income was going to housing. Clothing, food, electricity and other necessities meant tough decisions often had to be made.

The first step to HFH home ownership is a lengthy application process to ensure the family meets certain criteria, some of which include: income between $20,000 and the maximum guideline for household size as set by the chapter, the ability to pay utilities/taxes/insurance/maintenance, etc., a credit score of at least 600, debt less than 40% of income. The Army Veteran met all the necessary criteria.

Once a family qualifies for HFH ownership, they put their name into a lottery for IMG_2892available housing. Upon being chosen, owners apply for a 30-year interest-free mortgage through Morris Habitat for Humanity. The owner puts 1% down towards the purchase price, which on average ranges between $100,000 and $175,000. The goal is to keep monthly mortgage and tax payments to no more than 30% of income. For our Veteran, his family’s monthly payment will drop from $1,400 to just over $600 a month, allowing them to save more, invest in education, pursue opportunity and become more financially stable.

What Are HFH Houses Like?

During my day of building I learned that Morris HFH homes are typically between 900 and 1,200 sq ft and are well built, low maintenance homes which are both Energy Star IMG_2971certified and built to LEED green building standards at the Silver level. I also learned that home ownership with HFH is a partnership. The homeowner must put in 300 – 400 hours of sweat equity to help build his/her own house or the house of another HFH homeowner. Construction takes 8 months to 2 years depending on funding, construction schedules and how quickly the homeowner earns their sweat equity. Our Army Veteran’s family’s HFH home will be ready for them to move into by the end of July or first week of August.

In The End…

For the volunteers, a day of building meant a fun day of giving back, of giving up time to help others get back on their feet. I’m not sure we realized until that day how integral IMG_2928volunteers are to changing the lives of the owners.

It was wonderful to see the love put into the 4 Dover homes by the contractors and volunteers and to realize that in just a few short weeks the homeowners will have their dedication ceremonies, take the keys and start to build a lifetime of memories in their new homes!

I loved the day so much I’m going back! My firm, Wiss & Company, has a group volunteer day at the Morris HFH site in Morristown in a few weeks. Keep an eye out for photos and stories from that day! Until then…

For more information on Morris Habitat for Humanity, or to get involved, please visit: http://www.morrishabitat.org/

PS: THANK YOU to HFH’s Jimmy Lombardo for his patience and guidance to everyone all day. We kept him running and he kept us on task and on time. We learned a ton and he made it super-fun.

PPS: Shout out and THANK  YOU to ADP’s volunteer group – led by Sharon Lombardo – on my Dover day. All the volunteers that day, except me, were from ADP and they welcomed me and were awesome to work with! THANK YOU!

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