July 25, 2018 — A Florence family celebrated new home ownership Sunday in a dedication ceremony at a freshly renovated Habitat for Humanity house on Nopal Street.
Kristy Cobbs received the keys to the 3-bedroom house, concluding a months-long process of qualifying.
“This is just amazing,” said Cobbs. “I get to come to this every day now.”
House gifts such as food and furniture were donated by various community members and organizations including Grocery Outlet, Sand Ranch and Morningstar Quilters.
“I was really blown away with the whole community’s generosity,” Cobbs said.
While a community’s generosity goes a long way toward securing homes for the needy, Habitat homes are far from a donation.
“The big misconception out there is that we’re building and giving families homes,” said Habitat for Humanity Board President Mike Harklerode. “We do not do that.”
Families hoping to qualify for Habitat homes must meet certain criteria based on need and undergo a process which involves a good deal of paperwork, interviews, financial literacy training and “sweat equity” whereby labor hours are committed to house construction or other volunteer efforts. If selected, families then receive their house on a 30-year mortgage.
Habitat for Humanity offers what it calls “affordable mortgages” largely thanks to volunteerism driving down their house prices, which enables the nonprofit to contract families with zero percent interest.
“In most cases, a family’s mortgage payment will be significantly less than average rent,” Harklerode said.
Homeowners are also required to maintain their home and the nonprofit administers a zero-tolerance policy for illegal activity.
Providing all criteria are met, Habitat homes provide an avenue for success for struggling families.
“It really is gratifying to see the security it brings a family,” Harklerode said. “When families have roots, they can dig in and the roots spread throughout the community. Kids are more secure and, in their family life, the parents are more financially secure. They don’t have to worry about a landlord changing the rent payments or trying to sell a home when the market is hot.”
The Cobbs make the 30th family to be awarded a house by Florence Habitat for Humanity from a total of 28 houses Habitat houses built and sold in the area.
“Of the 28 homes that we’ve sold, we’re still holding 21 mortgages. This’ll be number 22,” said Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Janell Morgan.
The Cobbs’ new home on Nopal Street had previously been occupied by a family who invested sweat equity into its construction.
“They outgrew the house,” said Morgan. When the previous family’s size increased, they sold the house back to Habitat for Humanity and bought their own home.
“Actually, this is the perfect success story,” Morgan said. “The ideal situation is when they can move to a conventional mortgage and then we can place another family.”
Habitat for Humanity’s model for success includes educating new homeowners on financial responsibility and household management, skills that in the future may enable them to independently upgrade their housing situation like Nopal Street’s previous residents.
“The home did exactly for them what it needed to do,” said Harklerode. “They built equity and moved up into a bigger home — one that fits their family’s needs.”
The nonprofit is hopeful for more success stories like these and another housing project is planned to start within the next month, but the hunt for volunteer labor is perpetual.
“We’d like to get back to one new home per year,” said Harklerode. “To do that, we need people who can do everything from the ground up construction-wise and can do it volunteering.
“For us, it’s not the construction costs as much as the labor.”
For beneficiaries of such efforts like Cobbs, the impact can be life-changing.
“It’s given me a lot more confidence and pride in myself,” she said. “It’s proof that with a little hard work, you can overcome anything.”