June 2, 2014

Habitat for Humanity director explains selection process

By JONATHAN R. PITMAN The Oskaloosa Herald
The Oskaloosa Herald

---- — OSKALOOSA — The Mahaska County Habitat for Humanity is one of many groups that has been there to help aid families that qualify for affordable housing.

Valinn McReynolds, executive director for Mahaska County’s Habitat for Humanity, said the purpose is to give people an opportunity to own their own home without being financially strapped. Usually when someone is selected for the home, there is a process, which includes a formal application.

“The form is an agreement letter that indicates they want to be a partner family. The letter also makes sure the family knows that a location for the house has not been selected and the plans have not been officially developed,” McReynolds said.

From beginning to end, the application process takes two months.

“We want to give people enough time to care about it and get the materials for the application. So, when that process closes, and we have all the applicants, it takes time for us to do the entire process. That includes a credit check, background check, the family commission committee needs to meet, review applications and visit the home,” she said.

Home visits are scheduled for a reason and are usually done by affiliate representatives, or two people that are trusted within the organization. Typically, these two representatives will weigh the reasons why that family is more qualified, or less qualified to receive a new home.

“We go to the home of the family and we assess the living situation. If we have two applicants and they are both very well qualified, and they meet all the requirements, we pick the family on the greatest demonstrated need,” McReynolds said. She added applicants that qualify generally don’t own their own homes. They live in rental properties. Even though they live in apartments, she implied that representatives will still come out to the residents’ location to assess their situation.

“If they are in government-subsidized housing, we want them to live in their own home,” McReynolds said.

Sometimes the families that qualify might incur a second mortgage.

“The first mortgage is $80,000 because it is a non-interest mortgage, which makes it easy for them to pay,” she said. McReynolds said the goal is to keep the mortgage less than the rent.

In addition, she said that people donate the house so it is affordable to the prospective homeowner. However, she made it clear that the home is not completely free.

“People donate the house … They must pay back the cost of the house and we give the time and donations, which encompass the second mortgage that is forgivable,” she said. McReynolds provided a scenario where the homeowner might choose to stay in the home for 20 years, or decide to vacate.

“You are never married to the house,” she said. She added that if one were to leave the house for any reason, they would have to pay back the second mortgage on what was owed. In addition, there is a certain amount of volunteer time that each family must abide in oder to be awarded the home.

“We call them Sweat Equity hours. We require 250 hours per person on the mortgage. Fifty of those hours, have to be done by volunteering outside the Habitat for Humanity,” McReynolds said. She added that she wanted partner families to be good citizens of Oskaloosa by requesting they volunteer for other organizations.

Family volunteers are limited to how many hours they can donate.

“Family and friends can donate ... For example, if their families come out and volunteer,” she said.

In order to qualify for the home, there is more than just volunteer time. The future inhabitants must be employed.

“You have to fall within certain income guidelines. For example, that includes 60 to 80 percent median income for Mahaska County,” McReynolds said.

Habitat for Humanity is an international organization and each chapter has their own rules and regulations.

“Within those guidelines, we are allowed to customize it for our area. We give incentives to entice them to stay in the home and an opportunity to build equity. Other affiliates don’t see the value in that, we do,” she said.

City Editor Jonathan R. Pitman can be reached by email at news2@oskyherald.com