Beyond the Wall: A Special Homebuyer Spotlight

When people think of the work of Habitat for Humanity, it often conjures up images of volunteers raising walls, people in hardhats pounding nails, and families holding up keys to a new home. These early milestones are huge accomplishments, and we celebrate them accordingly! But once the dust has settled, seldom do we get the opportunity to talk about the quiet, steady work these families continue to put in over the next 20 to 30 years— the work of paying off their mortgage. Beatrice (“Bea”) bought her home from Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity in 2007. Her kids – both of whom are now adults with kids of their own – were 6 and almost 10 at the time. Now, 16 years later, Bea has become the 28th homeowner to achieve the incredible milestone of repaying her mortgage in full to Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity.

Homeownership – a paradigm shift

Many people do not realize that families like Bea’s purchase their home through a mortgage to become homeowners. Our mortgages are designed to be affordable— meaning the mortgage payment should take less than 30% of the homeowner’s monthly income— and over the life of the loan, the homeowner will never pay interest. The 28 people like Bea who have paid off their mortgage but still own their original home join the company of 16 others who have paid off their mortgage by selling their home on the open market. That means that, out of every four mortgages we have originated in the history of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity, one has been completely paid off and satisfied in full! Bea, who has worked in early childhood education since she first bought her home, says that she can still remember the first time she keyed into her new home and walked in like it was yesterday. “It was the greatest feeling of my life to open the door of something that was mine,” Bea reflects. Bea says that initially, the most important thing about her new home was that it was a safe haven for her and her kids. Over time, however, its significance has evolved.

An important wealth-building asset

RAHFH was founded 35 years ago, so we have reached an age where more and more loans come to maturity each year. This accomplishment is so significant for homeowners like Bea, because it means that what began as a safe home for their families decades ago has matured into a significant financial asset and a means to build generational wealth. Like every other homeowner in America, Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity’s homeowners can put that asset to work however is best for them, whether that’s letting it appreciate or selling it to cash out their equity or passing it to their kids. The latter is precisely what Bea plans to do, saying: “I plan to leave this home to my children one day. It is something that I can pass down, and hopefully they will pass it down too.” Bea says that she is still in shock to own her home outright after a lifetime of paying monthly rent and then monthly mortgage payments, but she recognizes that this means financial freedom for her as she thinks about retiring in the next five or six years. “Owning this home changed me and my kids’ lives,” Bea says. “We went from living in poverty, in an unsafe environment, to owning this house, which we made into our home. This home provided a safe, loving environment, and we will always have it.” So we celebrate— publicly, exuberantly— on the early days when walls are raised or keys are handed over, but while it is less flashy and more private, we also celebrate with a warm sense of gratified pride on the day many years later when the last payment is made!    Congratulations to Bea, and to all of our homeowners who have reached the major milestone of owning their home mortgage-free.

Written by: Caitlyn Baylor, Special Initiatives and Grants Director 2023

Habitat International’s Position on Climate Change: Part 3 of Our Housing & the Environment Series

So far in our series on the overlap between housing justice and environmental justice, we explored emerging disparities in access to energy-efficient housing as well as disparities in the urban heat environment that have been cemented by decades of development patterns informed by discriminatory policies. These examples of interwoven issues highlight that, as a housing organization, it is important that we recognize the impact that the planet has on our work while also recognizing the impact that our work has on the planet. 

Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity is one affiliate of a broad network of organizations working in over 70 countries under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI). In our third and penultimate installment of our environmental series, we want to share a broader look at the perspective of Habitat for Humanity International on climate change and the way it impacts the global vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Here is their powerful position piece:

If you are unable to read the whole thing, here is a synthesis of HFHI’s position:

Put simply, the global housing crisis is being grossly exacerbated by the unprecedented global climate crisis, as those most vulnerable in their housing are also those most vulnerable to natural disasters and other impacts of climate crisis. 

But ironically, at the same time, HFHI also acknowledges that buildings and the development of housing exacerbate climate change. Buildings and their development make up nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. 

“In this context, Habitat for Humanity International has the potential to impact — and be impacted by — the future of climate change. We believe that adequate and affordable housing can be built sustainably and will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all of the United Nations member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

With this in mind, HFHI is committing throughout the world to build using local resources, to build using sustainable resources, to build housing that is energy efficient, and also to keep items out of landfills by facilitating their reuse. HFHI is also committing to engage even more with global policy advocacy, recognizing that gains made in increasing adequate and affordable housing throughout the world are quickly being reversed by climate change. 

“As part of all this work, we emphasize equity and inclusion to ensure that the most vulnerable members of a community are integrated in defining the housing needs and realizing solutions for their communities. With these resources, those communities can prioritize their own housing needs, disaster preparedness and climate adaptability for a more sustainable future…Our commitments are rooted in our pledge to be accountable to the families with whom we partner and the communities we serve, to be courageous and do what is right even when it is difficult, and to be humble in understanding that we cannot win this fight alone. These are the values on which our organization is built. Just as families must adapt to a changing climate, so too must our programming and operations evolve in order to address the housing needs of people around the world.”