Habitat For Humanity Changes Focus:
Housing is the hot button issue for our community. Newspaper articles not only locally but also from other communities speak to the lack of available owner-occupied homes and rentals. While costs have increased throughout the housing market, the lack of availability for housing in the price range of working families is desperately acute. This barrier adversely affects low-income families who earn less than the Area Median Income (AMI) of $61,450 but also constrains working families whose incomes are 120-180% of AMI. As a result, our community does not have and cannot attract sufficient service workers, tradesmen, teachers, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, and other mid-range employees throughout the market. Multiple market forces have led to the current situation. Potential solutions are complicated and will take a concerted effort by a wide spectrum of stakeholders to come together and begin to improve the situation.
Our city and county leaders and a group of large employers have started the process. Vince Michel, the Housing Coordinator, has documented the needs and the causes of the current housing situation, the barriers we need to overcome, and several alternatives to help resolve the conundrum. Some of these alternatives require local government support; others depend on the private sector to develop innovative partnerships. We need to figure out how to acquire and develop land, increase the efficiency of building single and multi-family homes, diversify the owner occupied and rental market, and find a sustainable financing mechanism. Not an easy task, and one not isolated to Fredericksburg and Gillespie County.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fredericksburg has provided 18 homes for low income working families over the past 25 years. While our work is a blessing to these families, our current model is not scalable to the needs of our community. Fredericksburg and Gillespie County have a deficit of many hundreds of housing units. Building one house at a time is expensive, inefficient, and not helpful in resolving the problem we all recognize.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fredericksburg has decided to change our focus. Rather than building new homes as we have in the past, we are initiating a program to rehabilitate existing homes owned and occupied by working families who qualify. This new direction will require us to change our operational policies concerning the selection of projects, the scope of work, the application process, coordination of volunteers and licensed subcontractors, and, of course, funding. While we make this change with some trepidation, we also know that this new direction will help more families in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County.
At the same time, we intend to join others in our community in advocating for housing across the spectrum of need. We hope to become a part of what ever consortium comes together to make ours a sustainable and inclusive town and county. We believe that we can leverage the Habitat for Humanity brand to offer our mission, experience, and fundraising to the effort.
None of us want to live in a place that is unwelcoming to the very people who do the work to provide the services we need to teach our children, protect our community, care for us when we are ill, keep our government efficient, build and maintain our homes, work in the grocery stores we depend upon, serve us in restaurants, mow our lawns, work in our homes, and perform the myriad functions of the workforce we tend to take for granted.
The lonest journey begins with the first step. Let’s agree to take this journey together.
Leonard Bentch, President
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fredericksburg