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Cornelius News

Habitate with humanity: We’re all in this together


By Dru Willis. “Rent is crushing the American dream for more families in the U.S. than ever before,” Jeff Porter says.

The  executive director of Our Towns Habitat for Humanity here in Cornelius cites a Time Magazine article which states more than one in four renters in the United States have to use at least half their family income to pay for housing and utilities. This statistic is just as relevant in Cornelius, according to Porter, as the cost of rent here continues to rise because of simple supply and demand economics.

“We are in a very populated area, a growing area, so landlords can charge more,” Porter says.

According to 2013 US Census data, of 26,898 citizens in Cornelius there are approximately 2,300 people below the poverty line. It is for these 8.5 percent that Cornelius-based Our Towns Habitat for Humanity strive to do something.

Porter and the rest of the Habitat family do not use the term “affordable housing” for the remedy. Instead Habitat aims to build quality and affordable “workforce housing,” because the people who live in the affordable homes are those who represent the workforce itself—school teachers, police officers, medical technicians. People, Porter says, that the community sees and works with every day.

“Because the working class needs an affordable place to live,” he states.

The basic qualifications for a Habitat home are 1) the need for decent, affordable housing, 2) ability to pay for the home, 3) willingness to partner with Habitat.

Our Towns Habitat for Humanity recently merged with Habitat for Humanity of Iredell County, doubling the service area of Our Towns Habitat to now cover Cornelius and all of northern Mecklenburg County plus now all of Iredell County. The total population in the Habitat footprint is now about 250,000 people, Porter says.

“The good news is that Habitat International is doing great. We’ve served over a million families and we are really reaching worldwide. Habitat Charlotte is phenomenal,” Porter says. Habitat Charlotte and Our Towns Habitat are two of 14 Habitats in the country who were awarded the Affiliates of Distinction.

The hope for 2015 is to serve 45 families this year, building 13 new homes and repairing 32 homes. Since 1980, Our Towns Habitat has built 52 homes in Cornelius alone, with five of the 13 under construction in 2015 in Cornelius.

“We are going to really be pushing it. We have never done this amount before,” Porter says.

This will come as the average mortgage for a new Habitat home is $400, far lower than the average rent of $800 in Cornelius and the area, according to Porter. The average mortgage payment of all the homes in the Our Towns footprint is $244 per month because the mortgage relies on building costs at the time of construction and construction has occurred for three decades.

Habitat is pushing itself so hard because there is a great need for the work to be done.

“We are in a growing area. And it’s good to be a growing area. But along with growth comes need. Every year there are more and more people in need of affordable housing. So we are continuing to try and meet that need of providing affordable housing for everybody,” Porter explains.

Reaching out to donors is not a burden because of the reputation Habitat for Humanity has built over the four decades since Millard and Linda Fuller founded the organization in Georgia.

“Since 1976 we have proven that we use people’s money wisely. And so, because of the reputation of Habitat, people trust us and there is also tangible evidence,” Porter says. “Some non-profits, you are not able to see some of the tangible evidence. But you can actually see 13 houses in nine months.”

Harder for Habitat is showing people the value of one family—why people should donate and provide money or time that only one family will benefit from. The truth is, however, that one family is not the only benefactor of repairs to an existing home or the building of a new home.

Last year, property taxes from Habitat homes generated $51,000 in tax revenue for Cornelius, Porter says, taxes which directly affect schools, roads, emergency services, and other things. Plus, after 10 years, the homeowners can—if they wish—sell their home and then have equity for a new home, or in 20 years have their home completely paid off.

“And we say that it’s a permanent solution to a chronic problem,” Porter says.

The equity helps break the poverty cycle so the owners can send their children to college, have money for a new home, or find other financial stabilities. Plus, people who own their homes are more involved with the community and community organizations, making neighborhoods that much safer because people know their neighbors longer, Porter says.

“The reason Habitat values home ownership is because it breaks the poverty cycle…because it helps the home owners build equity,” Porter explains. “Most folks in our country have found that home ownership is the basic way they go about helping increase their financial strengths. It appreciates in value over the years.