Postal worker Muktar Abasanbi and his wife, Esniya, bought their piece of the American dream Wednesday.
After touring more than 30 houses, the couple signed the closing documents for a tidy split-level in Brooklyn Park — becoming the first Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity family to shop for their own home as part of the nonprofit’s new Open Market program.
Habitat launched the program this year aiming to double the number of families it matches with homes. The goal is to help 500 families buy homes during the next four years through its new and existing programs.
“This is a great way to expand stable, safe homeownership and to provide that financial support and coaching so they will be successful in the long run,” said Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity CEO Sue Haigh.
Until now, Habitat staff chose and initially bought the properties. The nonprofit, relying heavily on volunteers, built homes on empty lots or rehabbed existing houses, then sold them to preapproved Habitat buyers at discounted prices.
Haigh said the nonprofit wanted to dramatically increase the number of families served but realized it would be nearly impossible to double the 27,000 volunteer days it logs each year.
Under the new program, Habitat lets families choose their own homes, neighborhoods and school districts. Habitat inspects the properties on behalf of families, helps with some fixes and rolls those costs into the mortgage. Habitat has also raised its income limits so more working-class families will qualify.
Bremer Bank is working with Habitat for the expansion.
The hot real estate market poses challenges to the new program, but Habitat staff anticipate three more families will close on homes of their choosing in June.
Muktar Abasanbi scoured four ZIP codes in Minneapolis for a home that would be close to friends and family.
The couple with two sons, ages 4 and 1, quickly realized they could get more for their money in the suburbs and started looking in Brooklyn Park.
“We compromised a lot,” said Abasanbi, who immigrated from Ethiopia in 2010.
Strong housing demand meant they had to move fast. They placed an above-asking-price offer on their home within hours of it hitting the market.
They may not have gotten their dream location, but their new home, built in 1971, is a comfortable fit. They have 1,869 square feet with five bedrooms, an attached garage, a large yard with mature trees and a flat driveway for riding bikes and playing basketball with their sons. And the home is near a school.
“It’s very nice, especially for our kids,” Abasanbi said. “It’s safe.”
Before the family moves in, crews will replace the furnace and air conditioning and repair some wiring.
Families in the open market program, like conventional Habitat clients, go through financial and new homeowner classes, which take more than a year to complete.
Classes cover a variety of topics including budgeting, saving for home repairs, lawn care and neighborliness.
Habitat financial coach Alice Melton said the couple were smart and motivated, making them an ideal first family for the new program.
“They are one easiest coaching clients I have ever had,” Melton said.
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 the household’s income. In recent years, about 90 percent of its clients are families of color and 80 percent are immigrants. Buyers’ 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.