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Raising the Roof

Habitat for Humanity opens doors for low-income families


Volunteers hard at work at the Cascade Avenue Habitat house, sponsored by the El Pomar Foundation. - LARRY HUMMEL
  • Larry Hummel
  • Volunteers hard at work at the Cascade Avenue Habitat house, sponsored by the El Pomar Foundation.

Finding a home in the Springs can be a financial nightmare.

An apartment often swallows 50 percent or more of lower-wage paychecks. According to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, wages in our city increased an average of 47 percent from 1990 to 1999. Housing costs, however, went up 117 percent during the same period.

Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity is doing what it can to pitch in for families who need a home.

Since 1976, the Christian housing ministry has built approximately 70,000 houses around the world in accordance with their mission: "to follow the example of Jesus Christ by providing simple, decent places to live for families who cannot afford a home by conventional means."

One of the more famous activists championing Habitat for Humanity is former President Jimmy Carter. Locally, the Pikes Peak chapter has built or rehabilitated 48 homes since it was founded in 1986. They're scattered all over the city, wherever Habitat has been able to acquire land.

Religion is not a factor when selecting low-income families to be recipients. Rather, Habitat considers their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to pay a down payment of one percent. Participating families also pay an interest-free monthly mortgage, which goes into a revolving fund to pay for new Habitat homes.

Sweat equity

As part of the program, families pay partly in "sweat equity" -- hard labor that contributes to the construction of their new home.

Single parents put in 350 hours on the house. For a two-parent family, 450 hours of labor are required. Additional adults (older kids) contribute 25 additional hours each. Most of the hours must be spent working on their own home.

Paul Johnson, executive director of Habitat, said that sweat equity encourages families to appreciate and care for their homes over the long term. By helping with construction, new owners "bond with the house, and they see what sort of sweat goes into building the house."

Families pay about $80,000 for the average three-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot house built by Habitat, although the homes are typically appraised at $120,000.

"We have 6 percent administrative expense, and 2 percent fundraising. Ninety percent plus of every dollar goes into the building of homes," Johnson said.

Churches are currently Habitat's number one sponsors, although individual and corporate contributors are important as well.

The Mill Street neighborhood

Habitat planned to build eight homes this year, but because of difficulties in land acquisition, Johnson expects to complete only five or six. "Our goal for next year is to build nine houses," he said.

Volunteers and partner families do about 90 percent of the work on the houses, but that still only saves about half the labor costs because hired specialty help is expensive.

Johnson estimates it takes 20 to 30 volunteers to build a home.

Most are completed in about five months. However, last year, Habitat sponsored a "Builder Bowl," where volunteers worked nonstop to erect a home in 13-and-a-half hours.

Recently, Habitat has tried to consolidate building areas in order to maximize their land purchasing power.

The Mill Street neighborhood, near downtown, is an important target area for Habitat. Two years ago, the City of Colorado Springs bought out dozens of low-income homes in the neighborhood, claiming they needed the land for a railroad spur and for space to build a massive homeless center. However, the railroad project was ultimately toned down and the controversial homeless center idea scrapped.

The land was sold to Habitat, which has planned several homes for the area. In close proximity to this parcel are three other Habitat homes: two on Conejos Street sponsored by Woodmen Valley Chapel and First Presbyterian Church and one at 1002 S. Cascade Ave. funded by the El Pomar Foundation.

This is the fifth story in a series on the eight 2002-2003 Independence Community Fund recipients.

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