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How Habitat Works


People have asked how families are selected to buy Habitat homes. (There usually are more applicants than homes available.) A committee of volunteers interviews those applying, who must fit certain income limits (which are based on family size and location, and set each year by the federal government), have a clear need for better housing, have a steady job and a reasonably good credit score, and be willing to "partner" with Habitat (in various ways, including putting in 500 hours of labor on their house - "sweat equity" in lieu of a cash down payment.)

When the house is ready, the new owner purchases it at around 1/2 of the market price, and makes loan payments over 20-30 years at zero interest -- i.e., they pay back just the principal. To put the houses in the hands of those truly seeking a decent family home and not fast-buck artists, the houses must be owner-occupied, and can not be resold during the entire loan period. If the family must leave the area, Habitat will take the house back, and pay the family every dollar they put into it -- but no more. Habitat spruces up the home, and finds another deserving local family to move in.

Unless out of town, Mike volunteers a day or two each week, and as an electrical engineer, likes to do electrical work on the houses. (He did electrical installation work on all of the 20 new homes just completed in Martinez.) But electrical work is quicker than carpentry, plumbing, etc., so some weeks, Mike joins in on other tasks, and has learned to do concrete forming, framing, siding, roofs, sheet rock, windows, kitchen cabinets, doors, and all sorts of trim work. (In fact, he has told Sandy he now could probably build an entire new house for her, but she politely declined the offer.)

Besides actually building the houses, other Habitat functions are done by volunteers as well. Some search for vacant land, or work with city planning departments, or teach classes to help ensure the success of the new homeowners. Still others visit large companies to solicit donations and volunteers, and others are in the office, putting together brochures, the web site, press releases, etc. Habitat also has 4 "thrift shops," called ReStores, where donated building and household materials can be purchased at bargain prices -- staffed by volunteers.