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September 30th, 2009 by Sameea Kamal
After attending a recent presentation for the housing improvement group, council member Cynthia Sternquist proposed that the city look into collaborating with Habitat for Humanity as a possible avenue to address the state mandate for affordable housing.
The nonprofit, which was founded in 1976 and has built thousands of homes worldwide, has had a San Gabriel Valley local affiliate for 16 years.
The group aims to eliminate substandard housing and help families who live in areas like Southern California where it is getting more difficult for families to afford to improve their homes, according to a presentation at the meeting.
The proposed partnership would require the city to pay anywhere from $60,000 to $150,000 per unit depending on a city’s density goals and city requirements, with Habitat for Humanity providing the rest of the money.
Aside from electric, plumbing, and other licensed trades, all other work for the projects is done by volunteers, which dramatically reduces the cost, officials from the organization said.
A selection committee would choose families who demonstrate both need and ability to afford mortgages, as well as 500 hours of “sweat equity,” or volunteer hours on either their own home or another project, said Damien Allen, Director of Corporate & Community Sponsorships for Habitat for Humanity’s San Gabriel Valley affiliate.
Sweat equity not only shows participant dedication but also enables them to learn how to maintain the homes, since most of them are first time home owners, he said.
Residents already living in a city get preference and must be legal residents. Though the house would be owned by Habitat for Humanity, homes are sold to the families with no interest and no profit. Mortgages are used to pay for other homes in the program.
While the properties are sold to families, the organization has second mortgages on the homes that would prevent them from being rented or sold and protect them from predatory lenders.
According to Allen, all 39 homes in the San Gabriel Valley are up to date on mortgage.
Habitat for Humanity works with many city agencies to help them meet their housing goals, some of which pertain to affordable housing, he said.
“Temple City is working to find new ways to meet their goal, and we would be a good vehicle for them to do that,” Allen said. “It is a legitimate approach to meeting the state mandate.”
The organization serves people who earn 30 to 50 percent of the local area’s median income. The most recent data available from Temple City reported the median income to be about $48,000.
Despite Temple City being an expensive place to buy into, Allen said there were still possibilities for development.
“Even in the more affluent communities, there’s always going to be a lot or a household we could rehabilitate,” he said.
Currently the only other communities in the San Gabriel Valley who have partnered with Habitat for Humanity are Monrovia and Glendale.
The city of Glendale is partnering up for their sixth housing development with the group, their biggest so far.
According to Mike Fortney, housing project manager for the city of Glendale, the high costs of constructing units for sale has led the city to build more units for rent, despite a general decrease in housing costs.
“For sale units have been possible with Habitat, mostly because they rely on volunteer work,” Fortney said. “They have the ability to take advantage of volunteer labor as well as donated materials that keep the cost down.”
While the city felt the group did a great job in their selection of homeowners and their construction of the project, the dependence on volunteer labor means the projects can take up to twice as long to complete, he said.
The city of Monrovia also had a positive experience with the group and felt they incorporated themselves into the community well, said Lauren Vasquez, management analyst for the city of Monrovia.
Temple City residents at the meeting said the partnership would build a strong sense of community and improve the city’s reputation. Others expressed their interest in volunteering.
The city is currently investigating pieces of property that might be available and reviewing the program to decide if it is a viable option for Temple City.
By Sameea Kamal