Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte
Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte (HHC) is one of the largest affiliates of the nonprofit in the United States. The organization has been serving low-income families in the greater metro Charlotte, N.C., area since 1983. Frank Spencer, president of HHC, has been on staff since May 2012. “I’ve been a volunteer, a donor and global village leader for 25 years,” he explains. “I’ve been deeply engaged in affordable housing my whole life. Affordable housing was my avocation, and now it has become my vocation.”
Spencer works closely with Bert Green, director of strategic initiatives for HHC. Green’s experience closely matches Spencer’s, with a long-running involvement in volunteer efforts through various organizations.
“I started volunteering through my church in September 1985,” recalls Green. “Some of my buddies from church called me up, and I said yes. We went out and I just loved it. I continued to serve and I love being on site. We meet and work with homeowners and folks in the neighborhood.”
Green began serving on the board in 1988 and concluded his service in 1992. In 1993 Green worked as executive director, the position he held for 19 years before moving into his current position.
Fellowship and Stewardship
Green and Spencer agree that while the organization has changed over the years, there are some very important constants. “We’ve maintained a focus of working with folks in need of decent, safe and affordable housing,” says Spencer. “We continue to work side by side with those people and thousands of volunteers to improve the community.”
And, Green adds, “We remain a Christian nonprofit ministry and share the love and teachings of Jesus Christ. We have the knowledge and expertise and passion for our communities here and abroad. We’ve been working with communities in El Salvador for 20 years now. Habitat International asked us to contribute to work overseas. We connected there and organize three trips every year. We’ve built more than 1,000 homes in El Salvador.”
HHC has become the largest provider of homeownership for the working poor. Regionally, the organization has made the top 10 in the homebuilding industry. While HHC is a nonprofit, the housing is not free. “Although we serve a low-income demographic, we use the same qualifying requirements as for-profit lenders,” says Green. “Homeowners have to have a decent credit history and the ability to pay back these loans. We offer high-quality homes at a less expensive price.”
To offer this type of service, cost control is vital. “We keep costs low by using volunteer labor,” explains Spencer. “Last year over 5,100 people volunteered to work for us. Those volunteers filled 12,000 shifts of work and we served 101 new families in 2012. We’re not a ministry, where we give things away. That undermines the dignity of the people we want to work with, not for. Every homeowner buys their house after working for at least 250 hours as a volunteer. We want everyone invested. It’s affordable because we charge no interest at all.”
Where There’s a Will…
Even as a nonprofit, HHC has faced strain under the recent recession and housing market slowdown. “We’ve had some foreclosures like everyone else,” details Green. “They usually occur when a homeowner falls behind on their mortgage and can’t seem to catch up. The recession cost some homeowners their jobs, many got hit with unexpected medical expenses, so they got further and further behind. We have, and will continue to, work with our homeowner to restructure the loan, as long as we’re able to stay in touch and communicate with them. We want to work with every partner family so we don’t have any foreclosures and continue to advocate for the people we build with. They don’t have a voice, so we are the voice working for better opportunities for affordable housing.”
The organization has partnered with several agencies over the years to build funding, as well. “We’ve partnered with the city, housing and urban development and independent housing programs,” says Spencer. “Over the last 30 years, we have received $9.7 million in grants and subsidies. Our homeowners have paid back $10.3 million in real estate taxes in that same period. So, Habitat Charlotte homeowners have paid more in property taxes than they’ve utilized in public grants.”
For the foreseeable future, both Green and Spencer are looking forward to sustainable expansion. “We’ve made it through a tough economic time,” elaborates Green. “We have a good organization and we want to make it a great organization. We’re examining creative avenues of growth through partnerships and initiatives that will help us build more housing.”
Of course, the organization needs a plan. “We’re headed into a planning cycle,” explains Spencer. “We’re in a position to significantly expand what we do, across the board. We have the capacity now to build more and recruit more. We’ve developed systems to expand all three facets of our ministry: new houses, rehabilitation and critical home repair. The plan now is to raise the level of awareness through advocacy efforts. We’re already running two ReStores, selling donated furnishings and appliances to the public as a fundraising tool. We also run a recycling business.”
With so many established and mounting initiatives, HHC is moving in the right direction. The organization continues sustained growth while seeking out new help and new potential clients. As the effort continues, technology is playing a major role in construction and advocacy. All new houses meet LEED certifications, leaving a smaller impact on the environment and offering future cost savings to new homeowners. To top it all off, HHC is celebrating 30 years in operation in 2013. With a solid foundation for growth and a strong leadership team, Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte will continue to serve as a growing force in low-income homeownership.
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