Habitat holds information session in Hurlock

MD-habitat information 2x nancy-032316

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity Choptank, Nancy Andrew, center, explains the program that gives qualified applicants the opportunity to own their own homes.

HURLOCK — As part of its outreach to north Dorchester County, Habitat for Humanity held an information event at Hurlock Elementary School on March 19 for anyone interesting in buying a home. Executive Director of Habitat Choptank, Nancy Andrew explains, “Always good to get out and talk to people about our homeowners’ program because there’s so much misunderstanding about it. People think you buy a house from Habitat you can’t sell it. Well, you can. Or, it automatically comes back to Habitat when you die. That’s not true. We want our families to build wealth and pass it on.”

Public meetings like the recent one encourage people to ask questions. “Most people are thinking day to day,” says Ms. Andrew. At these sessions, people step back and think “how do I become a homeowner?’ it’s a pretty audacious thing to undertake.” In addition, Director Andrew notes, “The relationship aspect of this cannot be undersold. It’s a chance to put a name and face together.”

The organization has committed hard-working board members as well as a dedicated staff. Cindy Stevens says she has been interested in Habitat for Humanity for a long time. “I can’t do the building part any more but I’ve always been interested in helping Habitat.” Ms. Stevens carries with her a sense of empathy; of concern for others. That is apparent as she chatted with the potential, first-time homeowners.

A board member for two years, Fred Haller attended a meeting for volunteers, met program director Pat Ingram, decided to volunteer, liked it, and “I’ve been doing it ever since. I started in construction and then a couple of friends of mine asked if I would become a board member.” He chairs the board’s building committee and lends his tool-wielding expertise two or three times a week. Mr. Haller and board member Chuck Weber answered questions and offered information from their perspectives to attendees at the recent event.

Maxine Wright wants to be a homeowner some day. A 20-year employee of B&G in Hurlock, Ms. Wright has heard about Habitat but this was her first time to get specific information. She says, “If I’m paying this much in rent I’d rather own.” After reading the qualifications required for homeownership, she adds, “I pray I fit right in there.”

Director Andrew explains one requirement for applicants — sweat equity. “As an individual buyer you need to complete 300 hours of working on the home.” While there is a minimum requirement for an applicant of 100 hours, the 200 hour balance can be completed by friends and relatives.

“A household of up to 4 people must have monthly income of between $2,302 and $3,945.” Ms. Andrew explains if an applicant makes above the maximum they could qualify for a mortgage with a big bank. If below the minimum, it will not be affordable. “So, when they get in the program and have the sweat equity, save $4,500, pay off any outstanding debt, while it’s a challenging way to buy a house, it’s a way for people who could not otherwise do it.”

“If you were to go to a big lender they’d give you a big stack of paper, say ‘go fill this out and provide supporting documentation.’ We try to break the process down into steps so if at some point you don’t qualify we can tell you why.” Some people who own homes today did not qualify the first time and Habitat encourages them to re-apply when they can qualify. “Income is the first thing we look at. Then we verify employment; do a landlord check, and then an interview.” Ms. Andrew adds, they review the credit score but it is not a determinant. “We’ll look at it but most people who apply to us do so because they don’t have good credit.”

“What’s more important to us is that you don’t have more going out than coming in. To date we’ve sold 68 homes and we’ve only foreclosed on one and we’d like to keep it that way. That’s why we do a lot of work up front. We also do it to build a relationship. It’s not just about selling homes. This is about building community for us.”

Homes can be built as “rehabs” as well as new houses on vacant lots. The organization is “very selective” about the projects selected for rehab says the director. “We’re looking for a 1980s or 1990s built house, not a 2000 one. We had some grant funding from the state that allowed us to buy foreclosed properties but we don’t want to buy properties that someone on the open market might buy. We’re looking for those properties that are sitting on the market just languishing, pulling the neighborhood down. So, we’re pretty cautious about what we get into before we get started.”

Ms. Andrew explains that buying from Habitat means a home in an incorporated town. “We only build where there are public services. With a realtor you can buy in the country, in town, anywhere. We want to keep people close to jobs and community services and really want to build neighborhoods.

The first Habitat Choptank in Hurlock will be celebrated at 9 a.m. on April 30 with a kick-off event. Afterwards, from 10 am to noon at the town office the group will hold an information session for prospective volunteers.

The founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller, said, “A house is incredibly important to a family. It is a place to be rooted, a foundation on which children can grow and develop.” And now, it is happening in Hurlock.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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