Habitat for Humanity is often a misunderstood organization. How is it funded? Who purchases the homes we build? How does it affect my community? And how does Jimmy Carter fit in? We hope to address many of the myths and deliver the facts here.
Myth: Habitat for Humanity gives houses away to poor people.
Fact: Habitat for Humanity offers a hand up, not a hand out.
Habitat offers home ownership opportunities to families unable to obtain conventional house financing - generally, those whose income is 30 to 60 percent of the area's median income. In most cases, prospective Habitat homeowners make a $500 down payment at closing to pay the first year's insurance cost and contribute 350 hours of "sweat equity" on the construction of their home or someone else's home. Mortgage payments are kept affordable as Habitat houses are built using donations or through deep discounts of land, material and labor.
Myth: Habitat houses reduce property values in a neighborhood.
Fact: Low-cost housing studies in the United States and Canada show affordable housing has no adverse effect on other neighborhood property values. In fact, Habitat houses have increased property values and local government tax income.
Myth: Only minorities get Habitat for Humanity homes.
Fact: Habitat builds houses in partnership with those in need - regardless of race, religion, or any other difference. Eligible candidates are those who meet these critera:
- The need for a decent home.
- Annual family income between 30% and 60% of the area median income.
- Residence or work within the service area continually for the previous 12 months.
- The ability to repay the no-interest, no-profit mortgage.
- A willingness to partner with Habitat.
Myth: Habitat for Humanity International dictates policy and practices for every local Habitat organization.
Fact: Habitat operates through locally governed affiliates with a strong emphasis on grassroots organizations and local autonomy. Habitat affiliates are independent, non-profit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.
Myth: Habitat homeowners are on welfare.
Fact: While some Habitat homeowners receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), many more are working people. Typically, homeowners are the working poor with an annual income less than half the local median income in his or her community.
Myth: You have to be a Christian to become a Habitat homeowner.
Fact: Habitat for Humanity is a Christian housing organization. However, prospective homeowners are chosen without regard to race, religion, or ethnic group in keeping with U.S. law and with Habitat's abiding belief that God's love extends to everyone. Habitat also welcomes volunteers from all faiths or no faith who actively embrace Habitat's goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world.
Myth: Habitat for Humanity is an arm of the government.
Fact: Habitat is an ecumenical Christian housing organization. It is neither an arm of the government nor of any particular church or denomination. It does not accept government funds for the construction of new houses or for the renovation or repair of existing houses. Habitat does accept government assistance for the acquisition of land or houses in need of rehabilitation. Habitat also accepts government help for streets, utilities and administrative expenses as long as the funds carry no obligations that would limit Habitat's ability to carry out it's mission and core values.
Myth: Habitat for Humanity was founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Fact: Habitat for Humanity was started in 1976 in Americus, Georgia, by Millard Fuller along with his wife Linda. President Carter and his wife Rosalynn (whose home is eight miles from Americus in Plains, GA) have been long-time Habitat supporters and volunteers who help bring national attention to the organization's house-building work. Each year they lead the Jimmy Carter Work Project to help build houses and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.
Myth: Habitat houses allow people to move from poverty to plush new houses.
Fact: Any new house is going to be a dramatic change for a family that has been living in a shack or tenement. But Habitat houses are not extravagant by any standard. Habitat's philosophy is to build simple, decent homes. Under house-design criteria approved by Habitat for Humanity International's board of directors; living space in a three-bedroom home, for example, generally cannot exceed 1,050 square feet. We build simple, decent, safe and affordable homes.
Myth: Habitat homeowners sell their houses and make a large profit because of the original low cost.
Fact: Habitat founder and president Millard Fuller addresses this issue in A Simple, Decent Place to Live: The Building of Realization of Habitat for Humanity (Word Publishing, 1995):
"In 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 any 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."
Silent second mortgages that are "paid off" by living in the houses, as well as first buy-back option clauses that many affiliates put into their agreements with homeowners, also help alleviate such concerns.
Myth: Habitat for Humanity has chapters in every state and throughout the world.
Fact: Although Habitat for Humanity is constantly growing in new areas in the United States and around the world, there are yet many places that do not have the benefits of a Habitat affiliate. Habitat operates on locally run affiliates rather than 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, non-profit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationships with Habitat for Humanity International.
Myth: 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, working with other committed groups and putting the issue of housing affordability in the hearts and minds of compassionate people everywhere; the problem can be solved. One of its initiatives, in fact, is a project which proves just that. Habitat, along with local groups, organized The Sumter County Initiative with the goal of eliminating all substandard housing from Sumter County Georgia (where the Habitat's headquarters are located) by the year 2000. This goal was reached with the completion of the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2000; no longer does any person in Sumter County need to live in substandard housing. A new Habitat for Humanity International program, 20th Century Challenge, urges affiliates to set a target date for wiping out substandard housing in their communities.