Habitat for Humanity (HFH) of Clay and Yankton Counties is taking on the challenge of being a catalyst for the development of more affordable housing in the area.
For the last 23 years, HFH has been building homes for those in Yankton and Clay counties who might not qualify for a traditional mortgage, and they plan to continue to do so, but according to Taylor O’Bryan, board member of HFH, more is needed.
“Jonathan Reckford is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. He wrote a book that was distributed to all the affiliates outlining what he called ‘A Three House Plan,’” O’Bryan said. “In the book, he makes the point that we’ve always been about building homes. He said we need to keep doing that, but we also need to understand that there are so many people that apply to our program that are disqualified.”
HFH has a detailed and rigorous process for vetting potential home buyers, who must have a low income but also be economically stable, which can make finding qualified applicants difficult.
“They may make too much money; they may not make enough money; their income may be in there, but they have too much consumer debt,” O’Bryan said.
The new approach calls for HFH to continue its current activities and add two more areas of operation.
“Our typical core approach is the first house, building a decent, affordable place for people to live in,” O’Bryan said. “The second home is building-sector impact helping improve the overall residential housing sector to make it easier to build cheaply. So, if somebody doesn’t quite fit into our program, they still have access to affordable housing.”
The third home involves looking at how to make a bigger societal impact.
“When you talk to a Jeff May, president of Kolberg-Pioneer, Inc. (KPI), and you say, ‘Why is affordable housing important?’ he understands that KPI wants to be twice the company we are today in 10 years,” O’Bryan said. “We could make better products, we could sell more products, but we can’t get the employees it takes to make twice the product. That’s a huge barrier.”
Yankton has a great agricultural base and a tremendous base in manufacturing but a lack of workforce O’Bryan said.
“When moving to Yankton, what you hear over and over again is that there is a shortage of homes,” O’Bryan. “Someone wants to buy a home but they can’t, so there’s not that anchor to keep them in the community.”
As soon as the next best thing comes along, many people move on, he said, adding that at Habitat, the belief is that affordable housing is foundational to breaking the poverty cycle, he said.
To raise awareness of that issue, HFH is hosting a house build each Saturday in June and is inviting the public to its sixth annual Build-A-Thon fundraiser this Thursday outside the former location of Larry’s Slumberland at 920 Broadway Street; the event runs from 5-7 p.m. In case of rain, the event will be held inside the building. The event will feature a barbecued meal, family-friendly lawn games, a bouncy house, silent and live auction items. Proceeds raised will go towards building the home at 703 Linn Street, the 43rd home built by Habitat for Humanity of Clay and Yankton Counties.
“One of the most common concerns that we hear in Yankton County is that there is a lack of affordable housing,” said Yankton County Commissioner Dan Klimisch, who attended the June 8 HFH build. “This negatively impacts our community in many ways. First, it is very difficult for young families to find adequate housing, which may force them to move away from Yankton County and seek employment elsewhere. Second, we have a significant shortage of workers in this community.”
Mason Schramm, city commissioner and current HFH of Clay and Yankton Counties board president, said that though HFH can’t solve the housing problem, it is working towards that goal one house at a time.
“Habitat’s mission is significant and important because Habitat provides another avenue for Yankton area residents to find affordable housing,” he added.
“Affordable housing continues to be a huge need in Yankton,” said May, who also attended a June HFH build. “This is just one more way that we can contribute to such an important cause. Most ideas start small. We’d like to see Habitat continue to grow and offer more housing opportunities for those in need.”
O’Bryan’s experience with HFH began on a personal note seven years ago after his sister, Fay, was accepted to the program.
“My sister lives in Rapid City; she was a single mom with three children and, up until about seven years ago, was renting a trailer house and that was what she could afford,” O’Bryan said. “I would go to see her and see things like, literally, a hole in the floor with particle board over it. But because she couldn’t afford a higher rent, she stayed there.”
O’Bryan’s sister was introduced to Habitat, applied and was accepted to the program and has been living in her own house for six years.
Prospective home owners work on their home putting in about 400 hours of sweat equity on average, to make sure they had some “skin in the game,” but also so that they know how to maintain a home, something those stuck in the poverty cycle don’t usually learn. HFH volunteers also help build and complete the home, which is then mortgaged through HFH at zero percent interest.
Children that come home to a nice, stable home tend to do better in school, which gives them a better foundation in life, and the equity his sister has built will help her in life, O’Bryan said.
“When her kids come home from school, they can actually focus on homework and Fay’s not trying to get the bathroom to work or put plastic over the windows — the things that we see with people with sub-standard housing,” he said.
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