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 & Hononegah – A Home Building Partnership

The sounds from nail guns and saws could be heard coming from Jason Glodowski’s classroom. For the past 10 years, Jason has been teaching Building Contruction 1 at Hononegah High School in Rockton. This is the second year that his class has partnered with Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity.

They are getting a unique hands-on learning experience. His students are learning every phase of residential construction from the ground up. From learning building codes and reading blue prints, to concrete, footings, foundations, framing, plumbing, electrical and siding. “We take it as far as we can in a year’s time,” Mr. Glodowski said.

The 125 to 150 students (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors) that he teaches are building walls for one of our Habitat homes that will be constructed in the Emerson Estates subdivision behind Auburn High School in Rockford.

When asked what he hopes the students will take away from his class, he said, “Worst case scenario, everybody would hope to own a home one day. Just know how to use tools. Take care of their home. Best case scenario, it lands on a career that they enjoy and provides for them.”

The students will finish constructing the walls to the home just in time for the start of the build season in May. The walls will be transported from Hononegah High school to the build site. The good that comes from this partnership is visible and tangible.

Connecting students to the trades: The Guilford High School Build

Guilford students, Representatives from Rockford Public Schools, Habitat leaders, and Tammy, the owner of the 2022 Guilford House gathered to dedicate the home.

Carmen grew up watching her dad work as a car mechanic. She would go with him and watch and learn as he fixed cars. Carmen quickly discovered that she loved learning how things work, as well as working with her hands to build or repair things.

By the time she began high school, she started looking for classes that lined up with these interests. There were no car-related mechanics classes, but she did hear about another option that sounded intriguing: a construction class in which students built an entire house. And the more she considered it, the more she wanted to give it a try.

“As a woman, I want to know how to build stuff. That way when I get my own house, or if I want to build my own house, I’ll know the basics of it,” Carmen said. 

Carmen working in the house during construction class.

Rockford Public Schools has been partnering with Habitat a handful of years now to provide students like Carmen with a unique hands-on learning experience, and to empower local Habitat homebuyers on their journey to homeownership. This year, Guilford High School students worked on their seventh Habitat home, and East High School students built their second home. 

Carmen is now a Senior at Guilford High School. This was her second year in construction classes, and her first year actually building a house. She described how this year, she and classmates showed up day after day, in the rain, snow and wind, to build the home. She said that some of the skills she enjoyed learning were hanging drywall, installing windows, and (her personal favorite) using a nailgun. 

“It’s kind of scary at first, but it’s pretty fun,” she said with a smile. 

As she reflects on all that she learned this year, Carmen feels confident in her construction abilities. 

“I pretty much do know how to build a house for myself,” she said, also describing how she feels equipped to make home repairs and upkeep. 

These practical skills will also translate into a career for Carmen. She is interested in going to trade school or getting an engineering degree, and her experience in her construction classes is invaluable. 

“It gets me ready for my future,” she said. 

Though as a freshman, it would have been hard for Carmen to picture building an entire home, she feels very proud as a senior. 

“Wow. I’ve made big moves, you know?” Carmen said. 

It’s taken a ton of work to be a part of these courses, but for Carmen, every minute held value. 

“It’s totally worth it,” she said. “It’s worth it because you get to know people— I love my crew. And we’re providing for another family and helping the community out, and it feels good.”

“I recommend [this course]  if you want to learn something about yourself, build a house, and make memories,” she said.

O’Ryan is one of Carmen’s classmates. He’s a Junior at Guilford High School, and he’s been taking construction classes for three years. 

“Freshman year, I started learning measurements and doing a bit of shop work back at the school. Sophomore year, we started building walls for this house, and we learned a lot of skills doing that. And now junior year, we’re building a house,” he said. 

Similar to Carmen, O’Ryan also considers these courses to be stepping stones toward his future. He’s fairly certain he want to work in construction.

“I like working with my hands. This class is going to help me in so many ways to try to get into a trade out of high school,” he said. “[This opportunity] helps people with problem-solving, teamwork, and working with eachother. Like I said, it helps with building your skills a lot and helps you get a good job by getting you into the union and the trades.”

O’Ryan joked that that the most difficult part of construction class is trying to hit a stud, but he had far more to say about what he loved about the course. He absolutely loves working with his classmates, having fun, and laughing with them.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is working as a team. You can’t really build a whole house by yourself– you have to work with each other, problem solve with each  other. This is a lot of teamwork,” he said. The results of that teamwork are incredibly rewarding. 

“In my head I’m just like, ‘we really just built that’. It warms my heart that we know that we did a lot of work in this house. We put a lot of time into it, and made it everything that it’s supposed to be,” O’Ryan said. 

O’Ryan standing in the house that he helped build.

Mark Anderson, the construction teacher at Guilford High School, said that even though the pandemic had a large effect on these students, they have been incredibly resilient and ready to rise to the challenge of building a house. Before learning on the build site, a handful of students had never even used tools because they had taken their introductory classes online. Many students have even realized that they love construction more than they thought they would. 

For many students, the gratification of working on something so tangible becomes motivating in a very different way from the traditional classroom setting. 

“If they see what they did, and it’s good, and they keep moving, then they kind of quickly build their self-confidence. If you’re in a classroom, they don’t see that until they’re out of high school, or even out of college a lot of times,” Mark said. 

Mark shared that for awhile there has been a desire in Rockford to bring back the trades and help young people grow in their connection to the trades. As the partnership between Habitat and Rockford Public Schools has grown over time, students now have a resource and a path to be able to make this goal a reality. 

“For a lot of [my students], this gives them a reason to come to school. For some of them, this is the only class they enjoy. For a few of them, it’s going to be their future, so it’s preparing them for something for the rest of their life in a way that schools don’t normally do,” Mark said. 

Last week, the completion of the 2022 Guilford and East builds were recognized with two dedication ceremonies. Students from each build, teachers, Habitat volunteers, and even some Habitat homebuyers gathered together to admire the students’ work and celebrate this amazing milestone. The good that comes from this partnership is visible and tangible. In the words of Mark Anderson: 

“I see the good in this program every day.”

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.”