Habitat for Humanity: profile

Some information on Habitat for Humanity. Read the interview with Nathaniel Rogers who went with HFH to Alaska.

What is Habitat for Humanity?
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, non-denominational Christian housing charity. Our goal is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. We invite people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need.
We have built almost 200,000 houses around the world
Habitat for Humanity houses have improved over 3,000 communities
Nearly a million people now have safe, decent, affordable shelter.
HFH believes that decent housing is a fundamental human right and that inadequate housing impacts on the capacity to work (including education), on health (especially of mothers and children) and on gender equality (HFH works mostly with women). We believe that it is our moral and religious duty to ensure that we are part of a world where no one has to live in poverty; where everyone has access to food, shelter and clean water; to a livelihood, health and education. HFH also believes that work on shelter and housing ties the other basic human rights issues together effectively as a significant and necessary crosscutting intervention. Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller in Georgia, USA.

How does Habitat for Humanity work?
Through volunteer labour and donations of money and materials, we build and rehabilitate simple, decent houses with the help of homeowner (partner) families. Habitat for Humanity houses are sold to partner families for no profit – financed with affordable loans. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments go into the ‘Fund for Humanity’ and are used to build still more Habitat for Humanity houses.

Does Habitat for Humanity give houses away?
No. A Habitat for Humanity home is a hand up – not a handout. We build houses in partnership with families in need. The homeowner takes on a no-profit, interest free loan for the cost of the house. In addition to the monthly repayments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labour – sweat equity – into building their Habitat for Humanity house and the houses of others.

What does a Habitat for Humanity house cost?
Throughout the world, the cost of houses varies from as little as £950 in some developing countries to about £37,500 in Poland. In London, the average house costs £100,000. Habitat for Humanity houses are affordable for low-income families because there is no profit included in the sale price and no interest charged on the mortgage. Mortgage lengths vary from seven to 30 years.

What is Sweat Equity?
Homeowner partners put in hours of unpaid labour on Habitat for Humanity projects, as a requirement of their home ownership. Sweat equity reduces the monetary cost of the house and increases the personal stake of each family member in the home.

Sweat equity helps build a partnership between the homeowner family and the volunteers and staff. It is a key principle of Habitat for Humanity and is important in building partnerships across economic, racial and national divisions. The number of sweat-equity hours required of homeowners varies widely around the world, but is usually between 200 and 500 hours. It is safest to say that hundreds of sweat-equity hours are required of homeowners.

How are families selected for a Habitat for Humanity home?
Families in need of decent shelter apply to local Habitat for Humanity affiliates. The affiliate’s selection committee chooses homeowners based on their need, their willingness to partner with HFH and their ability to make the interest free mortgage repayments.

How are the housing projects managed?
HFH works from the grass-roots level by engaging potential homeowners in decision-making at all stages. We guide local community groups to elect a management committee for the housing project and then provide training in the following areas:
Project management
Beneficiary (home-partner) selection
Construction and maintenance
Finance and budget management
Debt repayment
Health education
Community development
Good governance

The management committee chooses the home-partners regardless of race, religion or gender in line with HFHs’ equal opportunities policy. Home-partners work with HFH and the management committee to determine:
The housing solution required (renovations, upgrading or new construction)
Whether it will be carried out in stages or in one operation
How they will repay the micro-credit loan, either by saving a certain amount first or by repaying over an agreed number of years.

Home-partners can therefore balance their housing solution to their incomes in order to make it decent, yet affordable. HFH staff, volunteers, the local management committee and beneficiaries all work together on the construction of safe, decent and affordable homes and the provision of sanitation and clean water.

Do you have to be a Christian to qualify for a Habitat for Humanity house?
While Habitat for Humanity is a faith-based organisation, every affiliate follows a nondiscriminatory policy of family selection. Race and religion (or gender or nationality) are not factors in selecting families to become Habitat for Humanity homeowners.

Where do the mortgage repayments go?
Payments go back to the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, into the revolving Fund for Humanity. These payments are used to build more homes.

How does Habitat for Humanity prevent profiteering from the sale of houses?
Each homeowner family signs a sale and purchase agreement for the cost of their house. The sale is paid for with a Habitat for Humanity mortgage, which is the amount the homeowner is required to repay. Our interest in the house is protected by a legal charge, which progressively transfers the equity of the home to the family – starting at year five of the mortgage. Habitat for Humanity’s commitment to gift the equity sum may be suspended or cancelled completely if there are serious breaches of the homeowner’s obligations under the mortgage.

What is HFH’s organisational structure?
HFH is an independent and legally registered charity in all countries of operation. Each National Office recruits local staff and has its own independent management and/or board of directors. The National Offices assist the affiliates and management committees in-country to achieve their goals and report back to one of the Habitat for Humanity Regional Offices: Europe and Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and America. These Regional Offices work with Habitat for Humanity International and Habitat for Humanity Great Britain on long-term strategy and goals and provide the focus point for funding decisions, training, service and systems provision, learning and sharing of best practice and information. Each national office’s aim is to become financially self sufficient through local fundraising with individuals, businesses, foundations, organisations and institutions.

HFH has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs; a formal Agreement of Cooperation with UN Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme); and is a member of BOND. As co-founders of the International Housing Coalition (IHC), a newly formed organisation to promote decent ‘housing for all’, HFH also works with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID and other public and private sector partners and this year presented case studies on global housing issues at the UN’s World Urban Forum, Vancouver, Canada. HFH also has a formal Memo of Understanding with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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