Habitat for Humanity setting foundations to build again
The program struggles to motivate a society scarred by the pandemic?
The world retreated into its shell during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity are struggling to drag it back out again to resume their do-gooding.
Staci Thompson, executive director of the Martin-Faribault County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, shares the past year has stripped the program of its usual resources.
“We were limited to five volunteers at a time,” explains Thompson. “We also struggled to find volunteers because people were afraid.”
Apart from a depleted pool of volunteers, the program also struggled due to a lack of financial resources. Many funds from regular donors were reallocated toward COVID-19 relief efforts.
“COVID is beating us over the head,” admits Thompson. “We are making slow progress.”
Another barrier to Habitat for Humanity’s typical productivity is, of course, the sky-high lumber prices.
“The price of lumber has tripled since COVID,” shares Thompson. “We are doing fewer projects and we have slowed up on home production.”
Habitat for Humanity is nonetheless still fighting to provide affordable housing for those in need. Thompson has much to say about all Habitat for Humanity can do for communities.
“Whenever a family goes from an unstable situation to a stable situation, it’s a win-win for all,” Thompson explains.
“The city wins because there is another property taxpayer. The family wins because they save more money as owners versus renters. Finally, the kids win because their grades go up and their physical health improves with better living conditions.”
Thompson adds, “Also, homeowners tend to stay in the area, and that’s good for the community.”
Thompson is still fighting to keep the Martin-Faribault County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity afloat through the pandemic.
“I am writing a lot of grant proposals,” says Thompson. “We have also gotten two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and help from the Small Business Administration.”
Finally, Thompson reports Habitat Minnesota has been working with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to facilitate more home repair projects, and they have been able to complete seven or eight of these recently.
Plans are in motion to complete such a project in Blue Earth. Thompson shares intentions to renovate a house on East Second Street in town.
The house is in need of new siding this summer, and will need insulating, Sheetrocking, cabinets, and a variety of other improvements inside when the weather turns colder. However, the project requires community volunteers to be successful.
Thompson adds the program is still in search of a family to call the house home.
“It is better if we have a family selected to help with making decisions and to have input,” she explains. “But time is running out.”
As the summer wanes, the pressure is on to start siding the house, even if there is no one to live in it yet.
Thompson does feel misconceptions about Habitat for Humanity impede the process of finding families for renovated homes.
“People have the misconception that you have to be unemployed to qualify for the program, but actually you have to have a steady, reliable income,” she explains.
Families do have to be in substandard living conditions to qualify for housing from Habitat for Humanity, but the program also wants to see the family will be able to remain long-term owners of the home.
For example, Thompson shares a family of three could qualify for the program if they earn an income between $20,780 – $50,050 a year.
Thompson explains the program has several strategies for finding families who may benefit from Habitat for Humanity.
“We try to network,” she says. “We work with the Minnesota Valley Action Council and the Salvation Army. If people know of a family, they’ll call. We also use social media and distribute pamphlets.”
Despite all these efforts, the Martin-Faribault County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity needs support from the community to continue providing its services. One way community members can help is by locating qualifying families in need of housing.
Thompson shares many other ways community members can support Habitat for Humanity. For example, they can purchase tickets for the upcoming Playhouse Raffle.
Habitat for Humanity also has many committees community members can serve on. These include a family selection committee that reviews applications and determines if a family fits the criteria to be awarded housing. There are also building, publicity, and fundraising committees.
One final way community members can help is by serving as advocates for families who are receiving housing.
“It is a stressful thing to build a house,” explains Thompson. “People who have never had options in their life are now empowered to make decisions.”
Families are assigned advocates so they can feel more comfortable with tasks such as consulting with the board of directors. The advocate may serve as a liaison in situations such as these.
Lots of effort goes into Habitat for Humanity’s services. However, the quality of the outcome is undeniable.
When asked what her favorite part of working with Habitat for Humanity is, Thompson replies, “What I love most is meeting kids from families.”
She shares a story about one of the first families she helped. She met a little boy who was going to have his own room for the very first time. She vividly remembers the intense emotion he expressed upon finding out the news.
“No child should be that stressed about their living situation,” she says.
She sees Habitat for Humanity change the lives of whole families.
“Seeing them as they progress and grow into their homes is really where the best pay-off is. Everyone in the family gains confidence.”
Hopefully yet another family will be given the opportunity for a fresh start on East Second Street in Blue Earth.