‘Field’ of dreams

By MORGAN MANNS
STAFF WRITER
There’s no place like home and no one knows that better than Fostoria Area Habitat for Humanity. The local organization has purchased the former Field Elementary School property with an eye towards an extensive neighborhood project.
Habitat Secretary Bernie Dickson said the three-acre lot was purchased at auction by the group for $12,000. Dickson said Habitat plans to build six residences on the property for partner families, or those families eligible to be placed in a Habitat home.
“This is the most ambitious project since the Atha (Avenue) project,” he said, explaining a large number of dilapidated, tightly compacted houses were razed to make way fort five new homes for partner families at that location.
Habitat Treasurer Larry Nester Sr. said they are looking at costs of roughly $100,000 per residence for the new project, including materials and utilities.
In order to raise these funds, Habitat has put together a 10-year rolling plan.
“Instead of asking for ‘X’ amount of money in ‘X’ amount of time, we can let people know what we are looking for over a 10-year period in our investments,” Dickson said. “This is our way of communicating ‘here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we need, and here’s how you can help.’ It keeps us focused and aware of our next steps.”
A partner family must have an annual income between $17,000 and $45,000; unable to qualify for a conventional loan; provide “sweat equity,” or helping somehow in the building process; attend Habitat family-ownership classes; and make monthly payments on a 0-percent interest loan held by Habitat.
“Generally we work with families who are facing situational poverty, which is the loss of jobs, poor investments, foreclosures in the past, not being able to get a conventional loan,” Dickson said. “People can rise above their situations and conditions and we’re there to help them up.”
Habitat’s building process consists of constructing new homes in even years and working on rehabs, or renovations of existing properties, in odd years. In 2014, Habitat plans to build a home on Arbor Street. The process of constructing the six homes in the newly purchased lot is estimated to begin in 2016.
It takes roughly three to four months to complete one build, according to Dickson. At this rate, depending on the inflow of funds and the amount of volunteer help, the project should be completed roughly two years after construction begins, provided they work on the project throughout 2017 as well.
Habitat will apply for multiple grants, as well as host fundraising events and use money received from United Way of Fostoria.
Individual donations are also accepted through the Habitat website.
Dickson said often times donors will pay per square-foot or even sometimes for the square-feet of an entire room.
All the money goes towards materials and the construction of the homes. The partner family will then pay a monthly mortgage payment to Habitat that will refund the organization for its work. “When partner families become home owners after they have paid off their mortgage through Habitat, those proceeds will be used to fund more projects,” Nester said. “It creates growth, not only for those families but for Habitat as well.”
“Some people really think we’re just handing stuff out to people in poverty,” Dickson said. “But we don’t just give the house away. We’re more of a hand up than a hand out.”
Funding is one of two major obstacles Habitat faces when taking on new projects. According to Nester, the pool of available and willing volunteers has dwindled over the years.
“Volunteers are very key to our success,” he said. “They don’t have to know a whole lot about construction. They’re there to learn. An individual can walk away with some new skills they developed by participating.”
Volunteers fill out an application and go through a series of background checks and possible interviews, but Nester said Habitat doesn’t turn away too many people.
There are age limits on using certain tools and they are “sensible to have the correct element there” to help, but they will find a place for volunteers, whether that be constructing the build or working in the office.
Nester said most builds are one-story, 1,400 square-foot homes with three bedrooms, at least one bath, and a single-car garage, among other features the partner family chooses within their budget.
“The goal is that we can give them good, fundamental, solid housing,” he said. “Something that’s affordable to them with features and styles that fit.”
Habitat also constructs a driveway and a sidewalk around the house and finishes minor landscaping, such as planting grass.
According to Nester, 50 percent of the project is committed to the construction of the houses. The other 50 percent is divided into prep time and all post-completed time to “make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.”
The work with family partners continues even after they close on the house, Dickson said. Habitat members and volunteers keep in contact with the families to help them with whatever they may need, such as budgeting or maintaining their yards and gardens.
“The work we do really is continual,” he said. “They really do become part of our family. As we move forward, we’ll continue with a ten-year effort to continue growing.”
Since the creation of the agency in 1991, it has completed 19 projects, including six builds and 12 rehabs.
Of those projects, no partner family has foreclosed on their property, according to Dickson.
“It speaks to the stability the program brings and adds to the community,” he said. “There are no words to describe what it does for our partner families.”
Dickson and Nester described many instances when partner families would come to the board and continuously thank them for their efforts.
“We had a family within the last two years who paid off their mortgage and came in and met with the Habitat board. And what they had to say. “¦ we cried,” Dickson said. “The joy, the positive impact on their life that Habitat gave them, it brought a sense of romance and renewal of their life. Their testimony of the value of life we were able to give them is priceless.”
For more information, to donate or fill out an application to become a partner family or a volunteer, contact the Habitat office at 419-435-2844 or visit the website at www.fostoriahabitat.com.

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