FREEPORT — With the economy making it harder for people to buy homes, Habitat for Humanity has expanded its model to include first-time home buyers in addition to the traditional, lower-income families willing to work for affordable housing.
Under the new guidelines, two of the three Habitat homes being built on South Street are designated for residents purchasing a home through the Maine State Housing Authority’s First Home program. The other home will go to a family that meets the sweat-equity requirements of the traditional Habitat for Humanity program.
According to Stephen Bolton, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, the organization started to get applications from families with much higher income levels about five or six years ago.
“We knew it was difficult, but didn’t realize how difficult until the applications started coming in from people making $60,000 or $70,000 a year,” he said.
He said he called the MSHA and discovered that a family making about $78,000 at that time qualified for housing assistance, but builders were building homes that were too expensive for them to afford.
So with homes built with the help of Habitat for Humanity and opportunities like the First Home program, Bolton said the organizations could help people find affordable homes.
The First Home Program provides low fixed-rate mortgages to people who have not owned homes in the last three years. There is an income limit to qualify for the program and several mortgage options.
Bolton said Habitat started looking for larger parcels of land that could support three or four homes, but more land meant higher infrastructure costs for roads and water lines. By building a few Habitat homes and a few homes that cost a little more, Bolton said, the additional money generated from the home sale could help offset the infrastructure costs.
“The First Home program was already in place, which allowed us to help connect to even more people in a down market,” Bolton said. “In some ways, this effort opened the door and allowed us to help families no one else could help.”
He said the Freeport project will help three families and generates tax dollars from three lots instead of just one.
Two of the homes on South Street are already sold, Bolton said.
The Habitat home will go to Hana Tallan and her two daughters. As part of the program, Tallan has worked at a Habitat site in Westbrook, is required to take a home buyer course and to donate eight hours of time to a charity of her choice. She also has to put in 125 hours of work at her own home.
In addition to a mixed housing project, the South Street Habitat project is a Women Build project, bringing together women to help in the construction process and providing them with a comfortable learning environment.
In the future, Habitat would like to build mixed-income housing in Scarborough, Bolton said, and would prefer to team up with a developer who could build a variety of homes for residents with a greater range of needs – single parents, first-time home buyers, and residents who want to downsize to smaller homes.
“With both builders and people struggling, this is a way to work together to build homes for those who need help,” Bolton said. “It is a little different that what we do normally, but based on the economy, it works. It may take a little longer but we need to emphasize patience, understanding and more patience. The end result is that more families will have homes that they would not be able to afford otherwise.”