Habitat for Humanity visits Hurlock Council

MD-hurlock council 3x-100515

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Habitat for Humanity Choptank Executive Director Nancy Andrew presented the organization’s goals, mission, and strategies at the Sept. 28 Hurlock Town Council meeting.

HURLOCK — Hurlock is the latest town to welcome Habitat for Humanity Choptank (HHC) into the community. The group is a local chapter of an international group that constructs affordable housing for qualified individuals and families and gives them a chance to purchase homes that offer quality construction, energy efficiency, and a permanent community. At the Sept. 28 Town Council meeting Nancy Andrew, HHC executive director, presented a comprehensive description of her group’s goals and procedures.

She was joined by board members from Talbot and Dorchester counties including President Greg Whitten. Ms. Andrew noted after several years of investigating possibilities and “running numbers” the Board decided the time is ripe to begin building in Hurlock. She pointed out this is “not about one house,” but is an opportunity for a long term relationship with a community. Each of the 1,200 Habitat affiliates in this country and over 50 internationally is an independent entity. In 2008 an affiliate formed in Cambridge merged with an existing group in Talbot County and was named Habitat for Humanity Choptank “to pay tribute to the river that touches both counties.”

Ms. Andrew explained, “This is not just a transaction. It is a relationship” that offers education and support for families or individuals who are “housing stressed.” Although the HHC focuses on the opportunity to get a good home, the house is just the “most visible part of what we do.” The group also provides access to affordable mortgage financing. There is a misunderstanding that the homes are given away. That is simply not true. “Our buyers buy their homes,” said Director Andrew, “and we’ll be alongside our buyers for many years.”

The homes’ buyers purchase from HHC inventory are built mostly with volunteers and are a combination of new construction and rehabilitated properties that are quality built, offer durable materials, are energy efficient and attractive. The “rehabbed” homes are often foreclosed properties purchased with grants. Ms. Andrews notes that the biggest long term impact of Habitat’s mission is providing a lower monthly cost to buyers. Low monthly mortgage payments and lower energy costs make these homes affordable.

Habitat homeowners buy a house, are responsible for maintenance, insurance, and property taxes based on the full assessed value of the home. Property taxes are “part of the way they invest back in the community that has made homeownership possible for them.” In 23 years the local group has completed 67 homes with only one foreclosure. “We are selling our homes to mostly first-time, first-generation homeowners. You can see the importance of the vetting process to the homeowners’ long term success.”

To qualify, prospective homeowners must have an annual income of $26-47,000 which is adjusted for larger families, have a housing need, and be willing to partner with the organization. Most applicants spend 40 percent of their income on housing costs which makes it hard to get ahead. They must have $1,000 or less of outstanding collectable debt. Ms. Andrew said, “It is hard to find folks who are in the right place in their lives and are willing to address their debt issues.” They must save $4,500 for settlement costs to cover the first year of homeowners’ insurance, property taxes due, and other transfer costs.

By settlement day, an applicant must complete 300-400 hours of sweat equity on their build sites and have no outstanding collectable debt. For many it is difficult at the beginning of the process to believe it is possible to make the life change. But even the idea of success is empowering and HHC helps with education seminars on finance and budgeting, home repair, and the responsibility of putting down roots in a neighborhood. Individual volunteers are available for one to one consulting as well.

Currently, said Ms. Andrew, there are two homes in Easton and two in Cambridge under construction. HHC is excited to reach out and extend a hand in partnership to begin building in Hurlock.

“Building in Hurlock or any new community means assembling all the resources that make our mission possible.” Those resources include: Fundraising for construction, finding qualified homebuyers and creating a pipeline of applicants, plus volunteers for all aspects of the program. Volunteers receive assignments to match their skills, interests, and timetables. She explained, “Last year we engaged 524 volunteers who invested over 25,000 hours of service.

Director Andrew noted that Hurlock donated property on Charles Street to HHC and funding from the Nathan Foundation purchased land on Jackson Street for three homes. The group works to build a “pipeline of property to build on” just as it strives for a similar pipeline of qualified applicants.

Total costs for a single family home without land are about $125,000. Having the land reduces the cost to about $105,000. “Every house that Habitat builds is an act of faith” since the group raises money throughout the build.

President Greg Whitten is “really excited. I just know there are going to be a lot of hurdles but I live in this area and with the folks in this area it’s going to take off and roll.” The key is homebuyers. Mr. Whitten felt the “funding will take care of itself to some degree. But getting the word out to find homebuyers is very important.” He thanked a local church for its $2,000 contribution.

Hurlock Mayor Joyce Spratt noted council support is “1,000 percent” and the council agreed to waive the cost of water and sewer hookups for the Charles Street home.

Councilman Charles Cephas announced a first-time homebuyers work session at the Hurlock train station beginning on Oct. 17 at 9 am and continuing for five consecutive Saturdays. He invited Ms. Andrew and HHC to participate. For information, call 443-205-9124 or 410-943-8833.

A first time homebuyer in a video shown by Ms. Andrew summed up the program in few words: “Because of this house I am free; I am home.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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