Friday, March 22, 2024

Habitat for Humanity looking for applicants in need of homes

By Masha Yurkevich

It takes a lot to keep a roof over your head. For those who need a helping hand, Habitat for Humanity may be able to help.

Volunteers work on a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland
home under construction in Cumberland County last summer.
The deadline to apply for new builds in the Standish area
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland was founded in 1985 as an affiliate and is committed to building strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter. In three decades, they have built 83 homes in Cumberland County, provided nearly 100 low-cost critical home repairs, engaged hundreds of business and civic partners, and enlisted the support of thousands of volunteers. Their ReStore provides new and gently used furniture, appliances, and building materials to the public at 50 to 90 percent off retail.

Tara Hill, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, is responsible overall for the organization, managing the teams that construct Habitat homes, provide repairs for low-income homeowners, choose and support the families, operate the ReStore, and raise the funds to support their mission.

“The profits support our programs, and the bonus is that nearly 12 million tons of material has been kept out of the landfill,” says Hill. “We are currently building eight homes in South Portland and 12 homes in Standish, all of which will be completed by mid-2026.”

Recently, Habitat for Humanity purchased 12 lots in an existing subdivision off Nature’s Way in Steep Falls, Standish.

“We are building with modular construction which speeds up the process by having 70 percent of the construction done off-site, but still leaves finished work to be done by our future homeowners and volunteers.”

These homes will have two or three bedrooms, one bathroom and an open-plan kitchen and living room. They will have a full basement and lots of land around them.

“We are currently building in South Portland and Standish and will be for the next 2-plus years,” Hill said. “For the Standish project, we are partnering with folks who earn less than 65 percent of the area median income. This varies depending on household size, but as an example, a family of four can earn up to $77,675. They need to have a credit score of 640 or more, no excessive debt, and be able to make monthly payments on an affordable mortgage that would be capped at 30 percent of their monthly income.”

They also need to be willing to do 275 hours of ‘sweat equity’ building their or their neighbor’s home, working in our ReStore, attending financial education classes or doing community work in the town where they will live.

Finding land is always a challenge, especially in Cumberland County.

“Generally, we like to find a piece of property that will allow us to build at least five homes,” Hill says. “Ideally, the roads and infrastructure systems would be in place since those are very expensive. We also want to build in areas that provide our homeowners access to jobs, schools, and stores. Of course, this is the land that other developers are looking for, and it can be a challenge to compete with their ability to pay more. For this reason, we look for land well in advance of when we want to build. We are currently searching for our next project where we would start construction once Standish and South Portland are completed in mid-2026.”

Habitat for Humanity accepts applications for homeownership when they are three to four months out from starting construction. Interested people submit basic information about their household and income. This information is then forwarded to a partner financial institution who does an in-depth financial review to ensure that they can make an affordable mortgage payment.

Members of the Habitat Volunteer Family Selection Committee then meet the qualified applicants in person to talk about the unique requirements of our program and to gain a better understanding of both their need and their readiness for homeownership. The final family is based upon the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Directors.

“We have professional staff who lead the projects, but we often have local businesses who join us for a day of team building as well as volunteers who come out every week and others who come out occasionally,” says Hill. “We do hire subcontractors for certain tasks such as excavation, foundation, electrical, heat and plumbing.”

Applications for the next two homes in Standish open on March 11.

“Interested folks can download an application from our website, pick one up at our office or ReStore at 659 Warren Ave, Portland or call the office to request that one be mailed,” says Hill.” The application and the applicant’s most recent paystubs are due by 5 p.m. on April 4.”

The new partner families will be chosen by early June and the houses will be built off site this summer with finishing taking place on site in the fall.

“At this point, we anticipate that the families would move in during December or January,” says Hill. “Habitat homes are an amazing opportunity for families who thought they couldn’t afford a home. The application process is easy, and we are happy to answer any questions or assist folks who want to become homeowners.” <

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