More Families Benefiting from At-Cost Homes

Houston's Habitat for Humanity is experiencing a growth spurt. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the number of houses the organization is building has more than doubled over the past two years.

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More than a dozen new homes are going up in a little corner of the Fifth Ward, just off Lyons Avenue. What's remarkable about that, is they're all Habitat for Humanity houses. And many more are under construction this year than in years past. Levella Bryant is one of the new Habitat homeowners.

"This is my second time applying for Habitat for Humanity...and the second time worked."

It worked the second time mainly because of sponsorships and donations. In 2005, the Houston chapter closed on 21 houses. In 2006, that number jumped to 119 houses. And the trend continues. Another 100-plus homes are under construction this year. New homeowners are put to work actually building their own homes and the homes of their neighbors.

"I know how to put windows in now, doors, siding, the decking. You know today we're doing -- learning how to mark down for the frames of a house. You learn a whole lot being out here in the program about building a home. You learn a whole lot. I didn't know how to do it, but now I know how to do it."

Bryant will share her new home with her son and three grandsons. Houston Habitat Development Director Ellen Efsic says the so-called Katrina effect prompted many companies to support Habitat's efforts. But the interesting outcome is the sponsorships and donations continue to grow even after the needs of Katrina evacuees have waned. Which means even more Houston families are the beneficiaries of home ownership.

"Families that earn 50 percent or less median income qualify for Habitat homes. And what we do is we remove the impediments to home ownership. The families don't make that standard 20 percent down payment. Instead, they commit to 300 hours of sweat equity, much like the families are doing here today. And they commit an at-cost, no-interest mortgage."

Efsic says most of the families make anywhere between $18,000 and $30,000 a year and their average mortgage payment is about $450 a month. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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