Habitat for Humanity hosts informational session for potential partner families

A soon-to-be-built house in Spring Grove is in need of a family to make it a home.

Habitat for Humanity – La Crosse Area hosted an informational session for potential partner families on Thursday, Jan. 24.

Due to weather, only one of the six individuals who signed up for the session was able to attend. Habitat was able to email application packets to other potential applicants, Executive Director Kahya Fox said.

Houses are not simply given to families, as the information and applications are important for potential partner families to help build the home.

Habitat for Humanity looks for three things from applicants, including their need for affordable housing.

“Many times we see families living in housing situations that include overcrowding, unhealthy or unsafe living conditions or [having to] pay too much of their monthly income on rent,” Fox said.

The second thing Habitat looks for is the family’s ability to pay a mortgage payment, which has to include a positive payment history, sufficient and steady income.

“We are looking for families that make between 30 to 60 percent of the median income in Houston County,” she added.

For a family of four, that would be $41,700 per year, as an example.

The last thing Habitat needs is a willingness to participate with Habitat through the home construction process. The family must complete at least 350 sweat equity hours building their home.

The application deadline has been extended to Friday, Feb. 15, at 5 p.m. 

Application packets can be picked up at the Spring Grove Public Library or downloaded from the website at www.habitatlacrosse.org/how-to-apply.

Interested individuals can email info@habitatlacrosse.org to request a packet.

After the forms have been filled out, they can be emailed to info@habitatlacrosse.org; mailed or dropped off at the Habitat offices located at 3181 Berlin Drive, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601; or faxed to 1-888-823-9830.

Habitat asks applicants to carefully review the checklist and make sure they return all required information before turning in the application, Fox said.

The house is expected to be built once a family is found, and the spring thaw allows construction to commence.

Local architectural designer Miranda Moen and Spring Grove High School students designed it. 

The home makes use of small spaces, energy efficiency and space saving ideas. It clearly reflects the Norwegian architecture, which is what Moen is interested in as a future architect.

“This is why I love cultural architecture — because our ancestors have made these ‘tried and true’ architectural systems that seem to integrate structure and character so well,” Moen said. “It’s my goal to bring this pride back into our small town buildings, one step at a time.”

Norwegians used every space available in their homes. If storage could be put in a nook, it was put there. If a bed could be housed for guests, then so it was. 

Construction is supposed to be completed about September/October 2019.

Fox said it takes about 175 volunteers and 2,000 volunteer hours to complete a home. No experience is needed to volunteer. 

Construction skills are taught as the home-building process moves on. Construction days are Wednesday through Saturday.

Habitat provides two full-time construction staff members who oversee the building process. 

More importantly, they look for local suppliers, subcontractors and partnerships with electricians, plumbers and the like.

“When you start with a community, you have to talk to the community and build a group of people that will make it happen,” Fox said.

Habitat also creates a committee of three to four people who are willing to find and work with a partner family to build the home.

Oftentimes the misconception about Habitat is that they give homes to families without hesitation. 

However, the partner family chosen must apply, meet several requirements and complete 350 hours of sweat equity in order to buy the home at the appraised value after all is said and done.

The partner family often has low income and in need of a new housing situation. In order for a family to qualify, they fill out an application similar to applying for a home loan at a bank.

They must have a minimum credit score, pay bills on time, have willingness to partner and a need for affordable housing. In return, the committee does home visits to the family’s current home and has a face-to-face conversation about why they are interested in being a homeowner.

The 350 hours of sweat equity creates a connection to the home for the family and ensures their partnership.

Once the home is complete and the family has completed the required hours of sweat equity, they buy the home at the appraised value.

The family will pay full property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Habitat looks at 30 percent of their gross income as an affordable mortgage payment and brings in assistance if needed. The mortgage is for 30 years.

The organization works with families to structure a monthly payment package to make sure they can pay the payments.

Fox said the structure of the payment plans have an “extremely high success rate” and there have been “no closures ever.”

The family is able to sell the home if they want to, such as if they had to move for a job change. They also earn equity during their time as homeowners. 

For the first 10 years, they earn 10 percent of the equity and then in another 10 years, earn another 10 percent. Eventually the family comes to have 100 percent equity in the home.