Innovative ideas in affordable housing
How individuals and organizations are coming up with innovation ways to help make affordable homes available.
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Catalina Garza went from sharing one bedroom with her mother and sister to owning her very own 3-bedroom home with the help of Habitat for Humanity in Fullerton, California.
Garza had heard about the Habitat for Humanity program from a friend, and decided to apply. While she did have a few things going in her favor: Good credit, a solid job and an obvious need; the process ended up taking over a year.
When the land became available in her neighborhood in Fullerton, Garza, along with a contingent of Habitat for Humanity volunteers built the house. Along with the 250 hours in sweat equity she invested, Garza was able to purchase the home with an interest-free loan provided by Habitat.
"It just seemed so supernatural to get a brand new house, for us," said Garza of her mindset throughout the entire process. "My own faith I think just helped me keep believing and believing, and then when it came true, my mom was just in shock."
Garza's new home is just one of more than 130 that Habitat for Humanity has built in Orange County. She now works with Habitat volunteers to build other homes on her street.
According to Stephen Seidel, Habitat for Humanity's Urban Programs Director, the organization has a set of criteria for qualifying families for the program.
"They have to be living in conditions that are really untenable and unsustainable for a healthy family," said Seidel. "Second, they have to be low or very modest incomes. And the third, and perhaps most important, is they have to be willing to partner with us. They have to participate in the actual building of their home, and joining hands with the volunteers who are building their homes and providing hundreds of hours of sweat equity to the construction of the home that they will eventually be purchasing."
Seidel says the organization is expanding its services, moving from primarily building new homes to also acquiring and renovating foreclosed and abandoned properties for low-income families.
Economic historian David J. Erickson, author of the new book, "The Housing Policy Revolution: Networks and Neighborhoods," says there are numerous organizations working "under the radar" to make affordable housing available.
"There are about 4,000 community development corporations across the country that build housing for low-income people, and they're just doing remarkable work bringing back neighborhoods that were hopeless and generation ago and making them viable again with new construction and rehab, and providing homes for low-income people."
These organizations are a mix of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations, and this says Erickson, creates a good balance in the market.
"The for-profits often set standards for efficiency, you know, price per square foot in terms of construction costs; but the non-profits really challenge the for-profits with mission. And that is, they go into low-income neighborhoods, the go into tough neighborhoods, they take on clientele that may be hard to serve because they need other social services. And so they kind of check each other in a really efficient way."
Abode Communities develops affordable rental housing in Los Angeles. Holly Benson, the organization's policy director, says they leverage both public and private financing to get houses built.
"We typically are serving between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, which for Los Angeles, a family of four at 60 percent median income is someone who earns about $45,000 dollars a year."
From her research on employment and income, Benson says the people who earn at this level and below are typically those in professions that the community really relies on.
"We're talking pre-school teachers, we're talking about healthcare workers, social workers, bus drivers, truck drivers -- a lot of folks who are making our city work and really the people that we need to really rely on to make a healthy economy and a healthy society."
Erickson says serving different segments of the market and bringing in economic diversity is becoming an increasingly common and appealing approach for companies and organizations around the country.
"What's very important is to make sure that we think about affordable housing going and working in locations where there's a great deal of economy diversity. It works best for everybody to live in places where there's economic options for all kinds of folks."
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