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Habitat for Humanity: Orange County's unofficial ambassador for affordable housing

Joann Shirer-Mitchell poses in her home, built by Habitat for Humanity, on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Shirer-Mitchell has lived here for 19 years.

Habitat for Humanity of Orange County received 500 applications during its last application period for affordable housing, according to the nonprofit organization's Volunteer Engagement Manager Ansel Prichard. 

Only nine were accepted.

Habitat for Humanity utilizes private donations and grants to build houses for low-income communitiesto make homeownership an accessible option.

An increase in the need for affordable housing has made the criteria to approve a family for a Habitat home selective. The nonprofit focuses on Black homeownership retention and families that earn below the area's median income.  

“We want to be able to do more, but obviously we have to do the best we can with what we have and what our capacity is," Prichard said. 

Joann Shirer-Mitchell, a 68-year-old resident of Mebane, is thankful to have access to a Habitat for Humanity home.

Shirer-Mitchell applied to live in a Habitat home after living in public affordable housing. Her application was accepted 19 years ago, and she has lived in a Habitat home in Mebane since then. 

“There’s nothing like coming home to your own home, you got your own space. It’s yours. It’s a dream come true, and everyone wants it," Shirer-Mitchell said. 

Shirer-Mitchell said the organization provided her with programs to help her afford Habitat housing as well as improve her credit score.

She also completed over 300 hours of sweat equity

Habitat requires homeowners to "put in (275) hours of sweat equity building their homes and the homes of their neighbors," according to its website.

“Sweat equity” serves as a down payment and reduces the cost of production of the home. 

Having homebuyers and volunteers build Habitat homes mitigates spending extra on hiring construction workers, Prichard said.

“You get the feel of true homeownership because you’re building from the ground up,” Shirer-Mitchell said. “You see every process, everything that you go through in building the home.”

"Sweat equity" also calls for engagement in workshops on topics such as budgeting and learning how to interact with homeowner associations. 

“Somebody who needs a homeownership now has responsibility, so in the back of your mind if you don’t think about that you might not think you’re able to do it or you can’t do," she said. "So it’s a lot of things mentally moving from homes that either landowners are maintaining versus maintaining a home you’re responsible for. It’s a mindset that people don’t realize." 

After the house is built, Habitat provides a mortgage loan to homebuyers. These loans are zero percent equivalent and monthly payments are limited to no more than 30 percent of a homebuyer’s income.

“If you force families to push that envelope too far, they're having to make very difficult decisions about what they do with what's left,” Prichard said. “Sometimes you have families having to just really kind of decide, do they have to sacrifice one bill to pay another, do they have to skip meals and then they can afford the rent?” 

Laine Staton, vice president of homeowner services atHabitat for Humanity of Orange County, said having access to Habitat homes creates more investment opportunities because Habitat homeowners can sell their houses.

The value of many Habitat homes have been recently increasing by at least $100,000, Staton said. 

“I had two women just in this past year that sold their houses back to Habitat," Staton said. "And, because of both the equity that they put into their house and the appreciation over time, they were walking away with around $100,000 in just cash for selling their house. That, to me, makes me really proud because it's two individuals that wouldn't have had access to that type of savings.”

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According to the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, families that have access to affordable housing also gain long-term mental and physical health benefits.

Habitat for Humanity of Orange County currently builds 12 to 14 homes a year, and it is expected to increase to 20 homes a year with the development of Weavers Grove — a new Habitat mixed-income development project — Prichard said.


@DTHCityState | 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of accepted applications and the nature of the zero percent equivalent loans. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for these errors.

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