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Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio combats housing crisis

Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio is on a mission, one that aims to transform the lives of families in need within the area by providing affordable housing. On its website the organization’s mission statement says, “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”

Founded in 1990, Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio integrates volunteer work to also help provide financial stability for families. The organization also has an open-door policy, meaning Habitat for Humanity welcomes volunteers and supporters from all backgrounds.

“Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio works with families and communities to build and repair homes so that people can have decent, safe, affordable homes to live in,” Ken Oehlers, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio, said. “We do that by providing 0% interest loans for new home construction and home repairs, while also completing those repairs and building those new homes in conjunction with volunteers and community members.”

Families who are qualified to receive a new home from the organization must fit certain criteria in order to work with Habitat for Humanity.

“The people who we work with, who we call future homeowners or ‘partner families,’ have to qualify for our programs by having a housing need, a willingness to do sweat equity on their project as well as the ability to pay back that 0% interest mortgage,” Oehlers said.

Habitat for Humanity also is working towards fighting the housing crisis not only in Southeast Ohio but extending to the United States as well.

“Housing is a very complicated thing,” Oehlers said. “To build housing, to manage housing, to repair housing, it's very complicated and everybody in the housing sector works very hard. In terms of the spectrum of care that is provided in the housing sector, Habitat’s more toward the final solution for the housing problem for a family because what Habitat is able to do is to create  a permanent solution to the housing problem for that family.”

Additionally, the organization works with several churches in Southeast Ohio as part of their Faith Relations Committee to raise the $35,000 needed for the building process.

“(The Faith Relations Committee) is a coalition of churches,” Danny Moates, a member of Habitat for Humanity’s Faith Relations Committee, said. “There are five in the community, so there’s the Catholic churches as a unit, Christ Lutheran as a second, Richland Methodist is a third, First Methodist is a fourth and First Presbyterian is the fifth.”

Moates has been a part of Habitat for Humanity since 1999, participating in and organizing fundraisers such as the organization’s annual Fall 5k Fun Run in The Plains.

“(In) 1999, I retired and a friend of mine said, ‘Well, they're having this thing, it’s Habitat for Humanity. Let's go,’ so we did,” Moates said. “Sure enough, we got drawn in. It was with the Methodist Church, and a pretty good number of people turned out.”

Interestingly, George Bain, head of the Faith Build Coalition for Habitat for Humanity, said he became involved with Habitat for Humanity through his children.

“I became involved actually through my kids,” Bain said. “It was before the Faith Build Coalition was developed. My kids were in high school and they had a student group that was under the umbrella of the affiliate. They went two years on spring break, and so I had to go and chaperone, … but I have been actively involved in Habitat for Humanity since 1999.”

Bain enjoys working with the organization because of the connection it creates between the staff and the families involved, giving individuals in need the opportunity to become homeowners in a more affordable way.

“I like the concept,” Bain said. “The overall philosophy is to help and partner with people who would like to have a home. It's a Christian precept. They don't pay interest on the mortgage, and once the partner families become a homeowner, they pay real estate taxes every year on their home, so it gives people a chance to want to do it, and then have the means to be able to become homeowners.”

Additionally, the organization is unique in that it allows volunteers to gain home-building skills without having prior experience.

“Habitat is kind of a unique volunteer opportunity in that what you learn on the build site you can put into your own personal knowledge base and be able to utilize that in the future to do repairs and stuff on your own home,” Oehlers said.

Bain and Moates both say that over the last 30 years, Habitat for Humanity has grown exponentially in the region, granting the organization more funds and opportunities to build several homes for families in the span of a year and supporting people in eight counties.

“Habitat has grown greatly in its 30 years of existence,” Bain said. “They started building one house about every other year, and we're up to the point now where we're building probably five houses about every year.”

Moates says the growth has been unusual, but the city of Athens has contributed to its success as a non-profit international organization.

“The city of Athens has a lot of non-profit organizations,” Moates said. “There's something like 200 organizations, and members of each organization are out there competing for every dollar that's out there. There's just a lot of committed people. They're idealistic about what they do, … and I think that's contributed a lot to the fact that we grow as much as we did as quickly as we did.”

While Habitat for Humanity has a student chapter on campus, those interested in the organization outside of OU can also attend upcoming house builds in Athens and Nelsonville, as well as donate online.

“Our home builds are just something that we need a lot of volunteers and we take student groups, we take community members, we take individual OU students – anyone who's interested in volunteering (can) sign up to volunteer at or learn more about that,” Oehlers said.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio, visit their website: https://habitatseo.org/

@grace_koe

gk011320@ohio.edu


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