Power Women Creating New Homes
Woman Build projects with Habitat for Humanity bonds work force to help create a home for a woman in need. Submitted photo.
At the construction site, rebar rises toward the sky from horizontal concrete slabs on the ground. Pallets of Tyvek Homewrap lay on the ground, ready to be installed once the house has been framed. An enthusiastic group of women with drills and hammers huddle together to discuss their plan for the day’s build.
Habitat for Humanity has long been an organization that helps women become homeowners. While single men and two-parent families have certainly benefited from Habitat’s help, Rob Locke, Habitat for Humanity Louisville’s CEO, says if you look at the full demographic list, the majority of Habitat homebuyers have been single moms.
In years past, Habitat had been making steady progress toward getting its Women Build program to not just involve women in the actual building of a home but for women’s charitable giving to fully fund the construction of that home. Of course, anyone in nonprofit work will tell you there are ebbs and flows to programs and plans. Board members come and go, as do volunteers. People’s finances and their ability to donate change for a variety of reasons.
This year’s 100th anniversary of suffrage in the United States, though, has been a reminder to Habitat for Humanity of just how integral its role in female empowerment is. “Using the ministry of Habitat to empower women is just baked into our DNA. There’s always been women leaders on our job sites. Our construction department is currently led by a woman,” Rob says. In 2020, the organization is refocusing its efforts to make its Women Build stronger than ever.
Habitat for Humanity is working toward getting its Women Build program to not just involve women in the actual building of a home but for women’s charitable giving to fully fund the construction of that home. Submitted photo.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF HABITAT HOMEOWNERSHIP
Despite its long history in Louisville, there remain some misconceptions about Habitat for Humanity’s programs. The organization does not give away houses for free. Applicants for Habitat home buying complete an extensive loan application, and while they can get assistance completing those forms from Habitat staff to ensure they are filled out completely, Rob says these applications get the same kind of scrutiny as what a bank would give.
The individuals who buy newly built or renovated Habitat homes have to put in sweat equity of up to 400 hours actually working on Habitat houses, whether that be screwing in drywall, painting, or laying floorboards. While Habitat home buyers have zero interest loans, they pay the mortgage on their homes each month, and they must stay in the home for a specific number of years to ensure their Habitat homes serve as wealth-building engines and not quick money-making schemes. It is also a myth that only people of color can purchase a Habitat home. Race is not a determinant for who gets approval. What the individuals who purchase Habitat homes have in common is an experience somewhere along the line of marginalization.
While single men and two-parent families have certainly benefited from Habitat’s help, Rob Locke, Habitat for Humanity Louisville’s CEO, says if you look at the full demographic list, the majority of Habitat homebuyers have been single moms. Submitted photo.
There are three criteria that all Habitat home buyers have to meet. First, they must need affordable housing. “If you already own your own home and you’re not cost-burdened, you’re probably not a good fit,” Rob says. When it comes to income, Habitat home buyers must make between 30-80 percent varying median income, which comes to anywhere from $17,000 to $50,000 per year, although this depends on family size. “The vast majority of our home buyers have earned under 50 percent varying median income,” Rob says. The last piece of the Habitat home-buying puzzle is that home buyers have to partner with Habitat to both build their own home and learn the nitty gritty of home-buying and owning. Pre-COVID-19, home buyers took in person classes to gain information about budgeting, interest on loans, Metro Louisville services, home repair, and property owner rights; since March, these classes, which run for eight weeks, have been done via Zoom.
WOMEN HELPING WOMEN
Habitat typically has 20 new builds each year, and 20 repair/renovation properties, but it would like to see these increase to 25/25. “It would be phenomenal if at least one of those 25 would be fully funded and built by women,” Rob says. He would love to see a women’s group, or a number of women’s groups, whether it is women in construction, manufacturing, or a social organization, come together to create a true women-built home each year. “This kind of a project is powerful, and it’s transformative, not only for the home buyer but for the volunteers involved,” he says. “There’s a deep empowerment component.”
This year’s 100th anniversary of suffrage in the United States, though, has been a reminder to Habitat for Humanity of just how integral its role in female empowerment is. Submitted photo.