Habitat for Humanity still helping low income families get housing despite pandemic, supply chain obstacles

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 7:09 PM CDT|Updated: May. 13, 2022 at 7:16 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We’ve all had a lot thrown our way in the past couple of years, and charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity are no different.

The organization, which helps low-income families build and finance homes of their own, is supported by a large army of volunteers and businesses who donate time and money to support the cause. Still, during the pandemic, one part of that army was missing.

“Coming off COVID, we shut down volunteering,” said Habitat Executive Director Chris Tuckness.

When volunteers weren’t allowed to participate during the pandemic, the organization only built one house, quite a contrast considering Habitat had made over 800 homes since 1988.

And now that the volunteers are back?

“This year, we’ll build six homes,” Tuckness answered. “And we’ll do about 150 repairs to keep homeowners in their homes.”

Habitat for Humanity has its subdivision north of Springfield named “Legacy Trails.” On Friday, nine Missouri State University Office of Planning, Design, and Construction members were on hand to help refurbish a home that will soon have a new owner.

That MSU group oversees all capital improvement projects on Missouri State’s campus, like the new John Goodman amphitheater and the refurbished pedestrian tunnel under Grand Avenue.

“We currently have about $160 million of construction activities on campus,” said director Mark Wheeler.

Yet they were working on a capital improvement project they weren’t getting paid for on this day and had nothing to do with MSU.

“To contribute and get our hands dirty in a different fashion is rewarding and enjoyable,” said assistant director Emily McGee. “And it’s a great way to get rid of some stress.”

“We wanted to help with a capital improvement project on a different scale that will impact the community in a positive way,” Wheeler added. “And hopefully, it will also be a team-building endeavor.”

“I’ve seen volunteers who in some cases have never swung a hammer come out, and by the time they leave, they’re hanging windows and door jambs,” Tuckness said. “And it’s a source of pride. Our volunteers come out when we have our home dedications, and you’ll hear them whispering to their friend, ‘Hey, I put up that window,’ so they do get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

More homes are being built thanks to the return of the volunteers, but the new homeowners also do their part by competing over 250 hours of their own volunteer work and paying for their homes.

“They put in their own sweat-equity to their home and help other Habitat homeowners,” Tuckness pointed out. “And I think the biggest myth is that we give the homes away. They get a zero-percent interest loan and have to go through life-skill classes. In most cases, it takes about two years to complete our program.”

The supply chain and workforce issues have also taken their toll on Habitat. The organization tries to sell the house as close to the cost-to-build-it as possible, with an average two-bedroom house at around $88,000. So donations like the one Habitat got Friday from the Veterans United Foundation for $10,000 will go a long way towards helping the new owner pay for a home getting more expensive to build.

“We are very mindful of the finances,” Tuckness explained. “We want to keep the cost down so that the house payment will be much more affordable for that homeowner. But we’re looking at about a 20 percent increase across-the-board in our construction costs. We’re trying not to pass that on to the homeowner because even a rise in construction cost of $2,000-5,000 can impact a payment significantly. So we offset that with donors and volunteers. The volunteers offset our labor costs, and the sponsors offset the upfront money it takes to build the house. It makes a huge difference.”

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