Think Habitat for Humanity, and the vision that likely comes to mind is former President Jimmy Carter building a house on a vacant lot from the ground up.
Since the organization was founded in 1976, the bulk of work done by its staff and legion of volunteers has been building more than 200,000 homes throughout the world.
That model is changing for some of the organization's affiliate chapters, among them Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona.
In places like the Valley, the organization finds that it often makes more sense to renovate existing homes than build new ones. Renovations reduce the stock of empty houses in neighborhoods and, in many cases, allow recipients to remain in the community.
Recently, Habitat has gotten into the home-repair and renovation business, contracting with Chandler and Glendale to be the non-profit organization administering emergency home-repair programs. Soon, the organization plans to launch a stand-alone home-repair business that could generate the bulk of its work.
"We'll do that in the next month or so," said Roger Schwierjohn, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona president. "In the future, we see 60 percent of our effort helping homeowners who are low-income and hardworking with their home repairs. We think that's how much growth we have in the home-repair business.
But that doesn't mean the group will move away from its original mission of building homes.
"We're not looking to reduce our volume of new homes," Schwierjohn said. "As a matter of fact, our production has continued to increase, and we don't see that changing. But we do see even more opportunities with the home-repair business."
Habitat's home-repair business will work similarly to its new-housing model. It will be available to low-income homeowners who could not otherwise afford to have the work done. Those who participate will take out a no-interest loan with Habitat to pay for the repairs.
"We're a hand up, not a handout," Schwierjohn said. "We know a lot of people who own homes in the areas we service maybe can't maintain their home as well as they should because they can't afford to or don't qualify for conventional financing."
Schwierjohn said the shift toward renovating and repairing homes began in 2008 with the economic downturn. Anticipating reduced donations due to the recession, the organization looked to diversify its revenue streams with actions like expanding its ReStore operations, retail outlets where Habitat sells donated building supplies.
It also looked for new ways to help the communities it served with the growing number of empty homes in Valley neighborhoods.
"Back then, we only built new (homes), but there was an abundance of vacant and foreclosed homes sitting idle in neighborhoods," Schwierjohn said. "Those vacant homes became targets for criminal activity. Many of them were used to conduct drug trades and were vandalized. We saw what the impact was to those neighborhoods."
That led to the idea of renovating vacant homes instead of building.
Last year the organization responded to a Glendale request for proposals for a non-profit organization to administer the city's emergency home-repair program.
Since August of last year, Habitat employees or subcontractors have completed nearly 150 home repairs for Glendale residents, addressing problems such as plumbing leaks, broken air-conditioning units or electrical issues.
"So far, they've done an incredibly good job," said Charyn Eirich-Palmisano, Glendale revitalization supervisor. "The transition from our old vendor to Habitat has been very good. We're quite happy with their performance and the citizens seem to be quite happy with their service."
Chandler officials took notice of the organization's success in Glendale and took that into consideration when Habitat responded to a similar request for bids in Chandler.
Habitat began administering Chandler's emergency-repair program on June 9 and is being considered for the more extensive housing-reconstruction program the city operates.
Schwierjohn said the experience gained in administering the city programs, although not profitable, will prepare Habitat to run its stand-alone repair business. If it becomes successful, it will allow the organization to continue its mission of providing safe, decent, affordable housing to the people it serves.
"We're excited," Schwierjohn said. "We know that the economy still has its challenges. We know we have to continue to struggle to work hard, to claw, to be creative, to do whatever it takes to continue to serve the community.
by Weldon B. Johnson - Jul. 4, 2012 10:05 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona is renovating old homes
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