When people think of the work of Habitat for Humanity, it conjures up images of volunteers raising walls, men and women in hardhats pounding nails, and perhaps even a family getting the keys to their new home. The work that our homebuyers put into building their homes and moving in is apparent and highly visible. It is a huge accomplishment, and we celebrate it accordingly!
But seldom do we get the opportunity to talk about the quiet, steady, quotidian work they put in over the next 20 to 30 years— the work of paying off their mortgage.
While everyone knows Habitat for Humanity builds homes for families, not everyone knows that those families actually purchase the home through a mortgage towards which they will make a monthly payment for 15 to 30 years. Here at Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity, we just had our 20th homeowner achieve the incredible milestone of paying their mortgage in full. That means that out of every ten mortgages we have originated, more than one has been completely paid off!
RAHFH was founded 32 years ago, so we have reached an age where we are having more and more loans come to maturity each year. This accomplishment is so significant for our homeowners, because it means that what began as a safe home for their families decades ago has now evolved and matured into their financial asset, and, like every other homeowner in America, they can put that asset to work however is best for them, whether that’s letting it appreciate or selling it or leaving it to their kids.
You will often hear us say that our work is to help households achieve strength, stability, and independence through shelter. If you really think about that statement, shelter itself is not the end, but rather the conduit to a whole series of other benefits. Empirical and anecdotal evidence tell us that when families move into safe, affordable, and owner-occupied homes, adults perform better at work, children perform better in school, and all household members enjoy improved mental and physical health. But when that family lives in the home and pays on the mortgage long enough to eventually own the property outright, they reap another long-term benefit: they build lasting wealth. Owning a home has long been the primary means for middle-income families to build wealth in this country, and opening up this wealth-building opportunity to lower-income homeowners is a somewhat unsung benefit of the work we do. Yet it is deeply felt, not only by the person who first took the leap of faith to buy a house, but also by generations of their family to come.
So we celebrate— publically, exuberantly— on the day the first wall is raised, and while it is less flashy and less public, we also celebrate with a warm sense of gratified pride on the day many years later when the last payment is made!