The Generational Impact of Habitat for Humanity
The nonprofit hopes to build 40-50 homes in the next five years
By Ren Brabenec | Sept. 23, 2023
With prices for building materials and vacant land rising and wages barely keeping up with inflation, helping residents become homeowners has never been more challenging.
“Building materials are 40 percent more expensive today than they were just a few years ago,” says Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region CEO Wendy Irvin.
But as every shift in the broader housing landscape makes homeownership more difficult, Irvin and her team innovate new solutions and draw on community support to help hardworking TC-area residents buy their homes.
“For single people, large families, millennials, the elderly, workforce individuals, and professionals of all backgrounds, we help close the widening gap between what it costs to build a home and what families have at their disposal to buy a home,” says Irvin. “We do it by tailoring mortgages to meet peoples’ needs, providing them with financial courses and budgeting resources, recruiting community members to volunteer, and raising funds from generous donors.”
A Multi-Faceted Organization
Habitat-GTR does a whole lot more than build homes. They run the ReStore home improvement store and donation center in Traverse City. They offer a veteran-specific program to assist vets with homeownership. They support the maintenance of safe and healthy housing inventory through simple roof repairs provided on a sliding-scale payback program. Their services also include helping elderly residents with much-needed home repairs so they can “age in place.”
“We’re also connected to a broader community of Habitats across the country and world,” adds Irvin. “We turn to our peer organizations for new ideas and innovations, new ways to leverage our existing resources to better serve our community.”
Whether taking on silent second mortgages for applicants or reducing costs by building townhomes and duplexes with carports instead of single-family structures with garages, Habitat-GTR’s dedicated team leverages every last drop of ingenuity. “Even something as simple as shifting our home design process to incorporate more affordable precast concrete foundations and walls has made a big difference,” says Irvin.
But at the end of the day, Irvin says everything comes down to funding. “Resources are scarce, but we do everything possible to secure grant opportunities. We also rely on donations from community members. If local folks share our passion for helping the community, the three ways they can support our work the most is by donating, volunteering, and shopping at the ReStore.”
New Developments Underway
Speaking of leveraging existing resources to serve the community, the new Maple City Crossings development was born from a partnership with the Leelanau County Land Bank Authority. The project includes six duplex homes on a 3.9-acre parcel in the center of Maple City. Four of the duplexes have been built and are already occupied.
“What’s beautiful about these projects isn’t just that we get to help people become homeowners,” says Sallie Krepps, homeowner services manager. “I like to think of our efforts like stones cast into a lake, whose ripples reach the farthest shore. In Maple City Crossings for example, of the four homes that are already finished, one of the homeowners works for Suttons Bay schools; another works for a locally-owned restaurant; one works at a doctor’s office in TC; and another works for Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Krepps continues, “Most of our applicants work in education, medicine, or for nonprofits. Our applicants are part of the local workforce. Once they achieve homeownership thanks to their work with us, they’re able to focus on supporting the community.”
Also in Leelanau County is New Waves Community. Designed to use renewable energy sources to offset utility costs and preserve the environment, this development was made possible by a partnership with New Waves Church. Habitat-GTR is developing the land to include 14 homes—seven for sale and seven for rent—on a 20-acre parcel, with nine acres set aside for a nature preserve, trails, and a public open space. “We’ll break ground on this project this autumn, with the plan to have the homes closed in by winter,” says Irvin.
Last but not least for their in-the-works projects, Habitat-GTR has partnered with Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) to create 15 homeownership opportunities at the site of the new BATA’s new headquarters at the corner of LaFranier and Hammond roads. The development will establish a micro-community for residents, including an adjacent 20-acre wooded preserve, childcare, and access to regional transportation.
More Projects on the Horizon
As they look forward toward 2024 and beyond, Habitat-GTR is in the planning stages for a Kalkaska-based development of 12 homes ranging from 900 to 1,100 square feet, with plans to design townhomes to save costs and shorten the build timeline. The organization also received a generous 28-acre land donation in Blair Township that, contingent on funding, will be developed into affordable homes in the next one to five years.
All in all, Habitat-GTR plans to build 40-50 homes within five years.
“Everything depends on funding,” says Irvin. “We have logistics in place to move forward with all of our projects. The degree to which we’re able to fundraise and gather support from the community really does determine how quickly we’ll be able to get these much-needed homes built and occupied.”
When asked about long-term impact, Irvin chose a local anecdote on just how powerful Habitat-GTR’s impact can be.
“After 11 years with Habitat, I’m addicted to the happy endings,” she says. “We recently heard from the son of the first family Habitat served in TC 37 years ago, Jake Thomas. He and his brother were children at the time, living in a tent with their mother. But by working with Habitat, they were able to get into a home.
“Once in a home, their mom was able to get a vehicle. Then she started driving her boys to school. Then came football practice, sleepovers, and homework sessions. Now, Jake is a full-time builder and associate pastor. His life trajectory was forever changed by that one little act of hard work and relationship-building between his mom and Habitat volunteers 37 years ago. Jake volunteers, and he’s raising his children with the same values. That’s the generational impact of Habitat’s programs.”
Learn more about Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region at habitatgtr.org.