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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Habitat for Humanity Opens New Office on Main Street

Super-cool video blog report!

Our local Habitat for Humanity chapter has a new habitat of its own. The East Central South Dakota Habitat for Humanity chapter, serving Lake and Moody Counties, will now operate out of a prime location right on Main Street—217 N. Egan, sharing space with Jay and Sherry Van Liere in their Lakeview Realty building.

Chapter exec Barb Johnson is quite pleased with the new digs:

Barb and the Habitat board will keep plenty busy this year: Habitat has a house to build in Madison this year:

Hand me my hammer, let's build!

Now some people don't quite get what Habitat for Humanity does. They think Habitat is a charity or (worse!) a government welfare program. Far from it: Habitat is a Christian ministry, putting the Word to work. Habitat calls it "the theology of the hammer" and "the economics of Jesus." The families Habitat builds for pay a fair price for their homes, in sweat and money. Folks who buy Habitat homes sign a contract with Habitat requiring that they put in hundreds of hours of labor, either on their own homes or on other Habitat projects. On top of that work, homeowners then pay a mortgage, just like the rest of us. The difference: they pay that zero-profit, zero-interest mortgage (there's some radical Christianity for you!) right back to Habitat, which then uses that money to build more homes.

Habitat homes are supposed to be modest, no more than 1050 square feet in North America. Building small keeps costs down and focuses on what's important: giving working people affordable options to get out of substandard rentals and housing and under a decent, sturdy roof.

The complication around here: Madison's zoning rules require a minimum size of 1000 square feet, and some subdivisions impose rules requiring big garages and other "amenities" that bloat the building budget just to "maintain property values." That makes it a little tough to find a suitable lot in Madison for a house that truly fulfills Habitat's mission.

Folks need to recognize that small houses are not a detriment to our community. Habitat houses are an improvement over whatever the families buying them had previously. Habitat houses add to the tax rolls, and they give that many more families the pride and responsibility of homeownership, not to mention health, safety, and stability for the kids, that strengthen the whole community. You don't need 1500 square feet of house hiding behind a giant garage to achieve that. (Maybe the folks who brought the economy crashing down by buying more house than they needed will realize that and change the way our culture thinks of housing.)

If you'd like to put your faith into action, drop by the Habitat office downtown. Give Barb your number, and when Habitat's ready to build this summer, your phone will ring.


  1. So where did they select to build the house? Didn't the TIF district open themselves up to Habitat?

  2. I'm glad you mentioned they have to pay a fair value for the house, in addition to sweat equity.

    A lot of people wrongly assume Habitat families get free houses. Wrong.

    They get a good price on a house, and have incentive to maintain it because they helped build it and pay a mortgage.

    The money then helps Habitat on future homes. Where I live, they've now collected enough from the mortgages to fund a new home.

    It's a wonderful ministry, one I strongly recommend helping!


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