Habitat for Humanity- Bringing Community Home

OCE Community Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes. There is a great deal of truth to that- home is where we go to rest, feel safe, and connect with loved ones. Having a house has many social and emotional benefits as well. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that understands this, and works to make the home a center for connection. Through their different programs such as home-building and the ReStore, they work to bring people together in all aspects of their lives. Janet Green from Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg was gracious enough to answer some questions for us about their place in our community.

Office of Community Engagement: Tell us about your role in the community.

Habitat for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg is a nonprofit homebuilding organization founded in 1985 – we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year!  Habitat homes are made possible by sponsorship and volunteer labor, including 400 hours of “sweat equity” the homebuyer must provide. Habitat homebuyers must have income between 45-80% of the area median income, excellent credit and the ability to pay for their new Habitat home. Habitat homes are sold at no profit with a zero-interest, 20 to 30-year mortgage carried by Habitat. Monthly mortgage payments are then recycled to build more Habitat homes. We have also performed exterior repairs to over 200 homes owned by low-income, elderly or disabled residents in our local community of the local community through our home repair program.

Habitat also operates two Habitat ReStores, our nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers.  The Habitat ReStore in Williamsburg is located in the Colony Square Shopping Center and sells new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price.  100% of the profits from the ReStores are used to build and sell more affordable homes to low-income families’ right here in our communities.

OCE: What role do William and Mary students play at Habitat for Humanity?

HH: William & Mary students have played an integral role with Habitat, especially with the inception of the Habitat ReStore in Williamsburg.  Not only are the student’s shopping and donating to the Habitat ReStore, they also have been incredible volunteers, performing hundreds of hours working in the ReStore.  The students have unlimited enthusiasm for our mission, promoting not only affordable housing but also our mission of recycling, helping us to divert literally tons of recyclable items from landfills. William & Mary students contribute by far the most collective number of volunteer hours at the Williamsburg ReStore.

OCE: What benefits does your organization derive from working with William and Mary students, and how do you see the students benefiting from their work?

HH: The William & Mary students offer a very positive and youthful energy to the store. They also bring a very different insight to Habitat than many of our other wonderful volunteers.   There is better “mutual” awareness of the difficulties faced by many individuals and families who struggle to find affordable housing in the Greater Williamsburg area, as well as nationwide.

OCE: How does your organization help educate the student volunteers about community needs?

HH: Habitat has worked very closely with the Office of Community Engagement to further educate student volunteers about the needs in our local community through on-campus networking.  We also have had to become experts on social media and have been proud to have the students help us with our on-line campaigns.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean to you?

HH: Let us answer this question as it relates to Habitat’s homebuyers — Studies have shown:

  • Habitat Homeowners are more likely to vote and participate in civic organizations, community affairs and volunteer organizations.
  • Homeowners are more likely to provide a supportive environment for their children.
  • Children of homeowners are less likely to have behavioral problems in school.
  • Children of homeowners are more likely to achieve higher grades, graduate from high school, and achieve higher levels of education and income.
  • Increases in homeownership levels and taxpayers in neighborhoods lead to increased property values of single-family, owner-occupied units.
  • Homeowners are more likely to maintain and repair their property.
  • Homeowners are less mobile, resulting in household and neighborhood stability.

If that isn’t active citizenship, we don’t know what is!