Struggling to find applicantsWhile the country is recovering from a downturned economy and higher unemployment rates, it might be easy to assume that the demand for Habitat for Humanity houses — which provide low-income families with reasonably priced residencies — would go up.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
While the country is recovering from a downturned economy and higher unemployment rates, it might be easy to assume that the demand for Habitat for Humanity houses — which provide low-income families with reasonably priced residencies — would go up.
But Parker Quammen, executive director for Goodhue County Habitat for Humanity, said that’s not the case.
“We are surprised that we’re not inundated with requests,” he said.
In fact, the organization used to have to keep a waiting list for its homeowner program. But this year, Quammen is struggling to find any applicants at all.
What’s more, a renovation project on a West Avenue house has been stalled for more than a year while Habitat tries to find a family for it.
“We don’t build without a family,” Quammen explained. “The family has a significant work requirement.”
Goodhue County Habitat for Humanity built its first home in 1993. The organization has built two to three homes every year since then, for a total of 28 homes.
But so far this year, Habitat has yet to start work on a residence other than the stalled West Avenue reconstruction project.
And as spring turns into summer, Quammen said time is running out. Usually homes are started in June at the latest. That way, crews can be sure much of the work is completed by winter.
“We don’t want to go much beyond December,” he said.
This year, the organization has mailed about 15 applications to people who have shown interest in the homeowner program. But so far, Quammen has only received one or two back.
“The return rate has been disappointingly low,” he said. adding that in the past, the return rate on applications was about 25 percent. This year’s figure dips far below that.
What’s more, the couple of applications Quammen did receive don’t meet the organization’s requirements.
“We have no applicant that we’re currently considering,” Quammen said at the end of May.
For that reason, Quammen has been meeting with local manufacturers and other large employers in the past few months. He said those companies are likely to employ people who would qualify for a Habitat home.
“We are doing a little more targeting… with some employers in town,” he said.
But it’s not just the homeowner’s program that is seeing a shortage of applicants. A Brush with Kindness — another Habitat program that helps existing homeowners do maintenance work — is also falling short of its goals.
Though the program is only about a year old, Quammen said he hoped to help five homeowners this year. So far, the program has only two confirmed projects and one more application.
So, what is causing the shortage?
Quammen speculates that the recession made poor families even poorer, meaning that it’s harder for them to meet Habitat’s financial requirements.
“It has probably inordinately affected low-income people. It’s been hard on their financial records,” he said.
Families need to meet three criteria in order to have a Habitat home built for them. Quammen said two of those criteria — a need for housing and a willingness to help with the actual construction — are pretty easily met.
But the financial requirements — while still well below those for a traditional mortgage from a bank — may be the sticking point for many applicants, Quammen said. Successful applicants must have a steady income, a descent credit history and not a lot of debt. The poor economy may have caused many low-income people to lose jobs or build up debt.
Another option could be that families simply don’t apply because they think they won’t be accepted, Quammen said, adding that there’s really no solid answer for why his organization isn’t receiving applications.
“It’s more than anything a mystery,” he said.
Anyone interested in getting more information about or applying for Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership or A Brush with Kindness program can contact Parker Quammen directly at 651-388-9360 ext. 32 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.