Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity can’t build enough homes to keep up with demand. So the nonprofit has decided that if it can’t build you a home, it will help you buy and repair an existing one.
For the first time, Habitat will allow an expanded pool of families to shop for homes on the open market and then assist with the purchase and renovations.
While Habitat will continue to build some new homes, the nonprofit expects to double the number of families it matches with homes from about 50 to 100 a year. Habitat executives say this more aggressive approach will also help chip away at the region’s stark racial disparities in homeownership.
“In our home buyers program, 90 percent of our applicants are people of color,” said Susan Haigh, president and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “We have this horrific racial gap in homeownership in the Twin Cities metro area. If people are not in safe, stable housing, it’s really hard to make everything else work in their lives.”
About 76 percent of white people own homes in the seven-county metro, compared with 40 percent of people of color. For blacks, homeownership rates plummet to 23 percent.
Habitat leaders have long sought to grow their program, but say increasing volunteer hours can be more daunting that raising more money. About 17,000 people already volunteer each year. Rehabbing homes requires less volunteer time, Haigh said.
Also Habitat families, who buy their homes but pay a reduced mortgage, want more say in the neighborhoods, school districts and houses they buy.
Mail carrier Muktar Abasanbi and his wife, Esnya, are now searching for their first home in south Minneapolis. Habitat approved them for a mortgage up to $175,000 and they’re already scouring online home listings.
The Abasanbi family currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, with their two sons, ages 1 and 4. More bedrooms and being close to their friends and faith community are a must. A garage and a finished basement are on their wish list.
“I don’t want to go far from south Minneapolis. I want to be within four ZIP codes,” said Abasanbi, 27, who emigrated from Ethiopia in 2010. He hopes to have a new home by the time the family’s lease expires next summer. If so, he’d be the first in his family to own a home.
Families in the Habitat program spend months saving thousands of dollars for the closing, working on their properties and going through one-on-one financial coaching. They sign a mortgage, with the help of Habitat, and agree to pay into a home repair fund each month for future fixes.
“Every family gets a mortgage. These are not giveaways. We are always battling that perception,” said Habitat spokesman Matt Haugen.
Habitat has plenty of experience with home repairs and rehabs. During the Great Recession, the nonprofit bought foreclosed homes, rehabbed them and sold them to qualifying families. Families didn’t have a choice though. That’s where this new program differs. Habitat is also increasing the number of eligible buyers.
A family of five making $71,000 a year, or 80 percent of the region’s median household income, is now eligible. Before, Habitat helped families making up to 60 percent of median household income, which is $52,000 for a family of five.
“We are going up the income scale a little bit for those families who are not able to quality for a mortgage without a partner like Habitat,” Haigh said.
Habitat has created a new home loan impact fund to help cover the cost of its expanded mission. It is seeking partnerships with banks and other funders.
Ahmed Ibrahim is one of the first potential home buyers through Habitat’s new program. He is finishing up the agency’s finance classes this fall and will start house shopping in the coming weeks.
Ibrahim, who works full time in shipping and receiving and juggles a second clerk job evenings and weekends, said he’d like to stay in or around his current neighborhood in south Minneapolis, Richfield or Bloomington. With a budget of $148,000, he understands how choices could be limited. Still he’d like at least two bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms with the idea of starting a family in the next few years.
He said he is looking forward to having his own washer and dryer and some outdoor space where he can barbecue and sit outside.
“The Habitat people are very helpful, very supportive,” Ibrahim said. “It’s a very good program to help people achieve their dreams.”
A handful of families have been approved for the new program, but no homes have been bought yet.
Habitat’s fixer-upper focus will include continued investment in its A Brush with Kindness program.
In 1998, the Twin Cities chapter of Habitat was the first in the nation to launch the program, which helps low-income homeowners do basic repairs. The nonprofit has helped repair 1,800 homes through the program.
While their home buyer programs tend to help younger families, Brush with Kindness helps older homeowners and seniors who struggle with basic repairs and maintenance. Many times peeling paint and other issues run afoul of city ordinances, creating some urgency.
“This is about preserving homeownership,” Haigh said.
Habitat is now targeting its Brush program with the goal of improving several houses on one street. In recent years, the agency painted garages in St. Paul’s Frogtown and sponsored a Week of Kindness in Minneapolis’ Jordan neighborhood, where volunteers picked up rubbish, painted and repaired homes. They also added some new landscaping and a new community rain garden.
“It’s a very tangible and physical investment. People can see it when they drive by or walk by with their kids,” Haigh said. “It’s a very hopeful message.”
Founded in 1985, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has helped about 1,170 families buy homes. Agency funding ensures that mortgages stay below 30 percent of household’s income. The beneficiaries’ income ranges from 30 percent to 80 percent of the Twin Cities median of $44,000 a year for households of five to six people. Habitat has an annual budget of $20 million; about 88 percent goes toward its mission.