People have many ideas about Habitat for Humanity that are not true. Misinformation about the organization drives much of the opposition to affiliates building in communities. When people know the facts, many of their fears and anxieties are alleviated. Below are answers to some frequent misconceptions about Habitat.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity gives houses to poor people.
FACT: Habitat for Humanity builds houses to help those in need and then sells the houses to the homeowner partners. Because of Habitat’s no-profit, no-interest loans, and because houses are built principally by volunteers, mortgage payments are affordable for those unable to obtain conventional financing for a home. Habitat homeowners typically earn incomes that are 30-50 percent of the median income in the area. They are required to invest an average 300-500 hours of “sweat equity” – which is time spent building their own home or other Habitat homes.
FICTION: Habitat builds houses only for minorities.
FACT: Habitat builds houses to help people in need irregardless to race. Three criteria drive the family selection process: need, ability to repay the no-profit, no-interest mortgage over a 15-30 year period and a willingness to partner with Habitat. The U.S. Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits denying anyone housing on the basis of race, sex, creed, marital status, color or national origin. The covenant that all local affiliates sign with Habitat for Humanity International also specifies that HFH homeowner families are selected “according to criteria that do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed or ethnic background.”
FICTION: Habitat homeowners are on welfare.
FACT: While some do receive public assistance, most homeowners work at low-wage jobs. Habitat for Humanity works in good faith with people who often are at risk in society, knowing that owning a home is not the answer to every problem, but can be an important step – often the first step – toward helping people break out of the cycle of poverty.
FICTION: You have to be a Christian to become a Habitat homeowner.
FACT: Habitat for Humanity was founded as and unashamedly remains a Christian ministry. Homeowners are chosen without regard to creed, however, in keeping with legal requirements and with Habitat’s belief that God’s love extends to all – regardless of race, creed or nationality. We also welcome volunteers from all faiths – or no faith – who can actively embrace Habitat’s goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world.
FICTION: Habitat houses allow people to move from poverty to fancy new houses.
FACT: Any newly built house is going to be a dramatic change for a family that has been living in a shack, hut or run-down apartment. But Habitat houses are not extravagant by any standard. Habitat’s philosophy is to build simple, decent homes. Under house design criteria approved by HFHI’s board of directors, living space in a three-bedroom home, for example, is not to exceed 1,050 square feet. The average cost in the United States of a three-bedroom Habitat house is just over $50,000.
FICTION: Habitat houses lower neighborhood property values.
FACT: Many studies of low-cost housing show that affordable housing has no adverse effect on other neighborhood property values. In fact, Habitat for Humanity believes its approach to affordable housing can improve neighborhoods and communities by strengthening community spirit; increasing the tax base; and building better citizens through the cooperative efforts involved in Habitat construction.
FICTION: Habitat homeowners sell their houses and make a large profit because of the original low cost.
FACT: Habitat Founder and former President Millard Fuller addresses this issue in A Simple, Decent Place to Live: The Building Realization of Habitat for Humanity (Word Publishing, 1995): “In the two decades of Habitat for Humanity…we have had no history of people selling their houses. Why? Because it’s so hard for these families to get the houses in the first place. It’s like an impossible dream come true. The fact that they can make a profit is not even an issue because they realize that if they sell it they won’t have a house anymore. And they wouldn’t be able to make payments the way the world would demand on a new one, since the bank or someone else attempting to make a big profit would now be the lender.” Special second mortgages that are “paid off” by living in the house, as well as first buy-back option clauses that many affiliates put into their agreement with homeowners, also help alleviate concerns that some people may have regarding the resale of houses.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity is a southern poverty program.
FACT: Habitat for Humanity International started in the southern United States and remains based in Americus, GA. It is a global partnership, however, drawing families in need together with volunteers and resources to build simple, decent houses – all over the world. Habitat currently has approved work in more than 80 countries.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity is an arm of the government.
FACT: Habitat for Humanity International is an independent, nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. It is not an arm of the government, nor an arm of any particular church denomination. Habitat does accept government funds for the acquisition of land or houses in need of rehabilitation. Habitat also accepts government funds for streets, utilities and administrative expenses, so long as the funds have no strings attached that would limit its ability to build each Habitat house as a demonstration of God’s love.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity was started by former US President Jimmy Carter.
FACT: Habitat for Humanity International was started in Americus, GA, in 1976 by Millard Fuller along with his wife Linda. Former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn (whose home in Plains is just eight miles from Americus) are longtime Habitat supporters and volunteers who help bring national and international attention to the organization\’s house-building work. They annually lead the Jimmy Carter Work Project to help raise not only houses, but also awareness of the need for affordable housing. Since Carter’s first work project in 1984, more than 1,000 houses have been built in conjunction with the special weeks.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity has chapters in every state and throughout the world.
FACT: Habitat operates through locally run affiliates, rather than through chapters controlled by the broader organization. Affiliates are grass-roots organizations of local people coming together to address local needs. As such, the affiliates are independent, nonprofit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.
FICTION: Habitat for Humanity builds only in cities (or) Habitat for Humanity builds only in rural areas.
FACT: Habitat – through local affiliates – is at work in large cities and small; in suburbs and rural areas; in highly developed countries and in those with emerging economies. Because poverty housing is so widespread, Habitat’s work goes on 365 days a year in hundreds upon hundreds of locations throughout the United States and around the globe. A Habitat house is built somewhere in the world about every 45 minutes.
FICTION: Poverty housing is such a large problem that it can never be solved.
FACT: Poverty housing is a huge issue. But Habitat believes that by continuing to build houses with those in need, by working with other committed groups, and by putting the issue of poverty housing on the hearts and minds of compassionate people everywhere, the problem can be solved. One of its initiatives, in fact, is a project to prove just that. Habitat, along with local groups, organized the Sumter County Initiative seven years ago with the goal of eliminating all substandard housing from Sumter County, GA, (where HFHI’s headquarters office is located) by the end of 2000. Meeting that goal is now in sight, and Habitat affiliates elsewhere are urged to set a target date for wiping out substandard housing in their communities.