Habitat for Humanity, partners turn foreclosed houses into homes

habitat for humanity volunteer
Volunteer and retired school principal David Holtz installs a door in one of the homes Habitat for Humanity is building in Modesto.

MODESTO – Habitat for Humanity, the Christian-based non-profit housing organization is partnering with Bank of America and the city of Modesto on projects that will reduce the surplus of homes left vacant by the housing crisis.

“Our affiliate has forged new partnerships to address foreclosed and abandoned homes and housing projects in our community,” said Anita Hellam, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, Stanislaus County. “We were awarded $1 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding from the city of Modesto and that money is being leveraged to build 21 homes in a subdivision we are calling River Vista.”

“Our other large partner is Bank of America, which is donating foreclosed and abandoned properties to us for qualified low-income buyers,” Hellam said. “This partnership will continue for the next three years and involve completion of a total of 90 homes throughout the county. By fixing up and re-selling homes that are vacant we are helping to improve neighborhoods while serving households with a great need for our program.”

Boarded up and vandalized homes pose a variety of risks to neighbors, and deteriorating homes do nothing to improve property values in the community, Hellam noted. Vacant homes are often a fire hazard.

“It is not uncommon for abandoned homes to attract undesirable characters,” Hellam said. “By securing the homes, clearing all the debris and performing complete major rehabs on them, we are able to improve their value and appearance. Also Habitat home buyers are committed to keeping their homes in good condition, and this a good thing for our entire area. We are improving the neighborhoods, one home at a time.”

The Stanislaus Habitat is scheduled to complete approximately 20 homes in the county this year and is for the first time offering homes in smaller and rural communities including Newman, Oakdale and Waterford. It is currently accepting applications to serve approximately 75 new families.

“Applications are on the rise,” said Hellam. “We suspect that this is a direct correlation to greater job stability for some of the low-skilled or entry-level workers.”

Many Habitat applicants since 2010 have had unreliable or unsteady work that made them ineligible for the program, Hellam explained. “Now we are getting applications from people who took advantage of our credit counseling services. Things are starting to turn around for this year’s applicants, and we are hopeful that as California recovers the Central Valley will begin to feel relief as well.”

Habitat in San Joaquin County is doing its part to reduce vacant homes and also provide access to educational opportunities.

“The biggest news for our affiliate is the dedication of three homes within our Dream Creek community, the upcoming groundbreaking for our community in Central Stockton on Alvarado Court, and the relocation and reopening of our larger ReStore at 4933 West Lane in Stockton,” said John Shores, president, Habitat for Humanity of San Joaquin County.

“In addition, our educational opportunities for various partner agencies or schools — California Human Development, Youth Build, Lincoln High School Construction and Engineering Academy, and Delta College, among others — are endless,” Shores said. “We have had classes at schools participate in home design, interior and exterior design and color selection, as well as construction of prefabricated wall panels.”

Habitat of San Joaquin completed two homes in 2012, is slated to finish three in 2013, and plans to deliver five homes to partner families in 2014.

“We have also expanded our mission to include home improvements for families in our service area,” Shores said.

This program, called “A Brush with Kindness,” is an exterior home preservation service that provides painting, landscaping, weather stripping and minor repair services for homeowners in need. These services are also available through the Stanislaus Habitat.

“ABWK helps low-income homeowners who are impacted by age, disability and family circumstances and struggle to maintain the exteriors of their homes,” Shores said. “The application and qualification process is basically the same as with our homes, and the repayment term is up to five years, depending on the size of the improvements.”

Loans for both Habitat home improvements and home purchases are zero interest.

Even as local Habitats increase their efforts to produce and improve local housing, new challenges have surfaced. Now the organizations are dealing with budget cuts that have reduced government funding and eliminated redevelopment agencies, new building codes that require them to install sprinkler systems in homes, and increasing costs of materials.

“Fortunately many people and businesses are donating materials,” Hellam said. “We get more than 100 donations a week and we are able to turn those donations into cash for homes.”


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