Habitat for Humanity is developing new ways to own a home in the Twin Cities
In the Twin Cities, Habitat for Humanity primarily built single-family homes for immigrant families. But after the murder of George Floyd, the organization decided to radically redefine its approach to affordable housing.
In a conversation on the University of St. Thomas campus, Cathy Lawrence, director of development for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, said the nonprofit had critically overlooked a group that needed their help. help: what Lawrence called the “fundamental black families”, or direct descendants of African slaves.
“There are generations of black Americans who have never owned a home,” Lawrence said.
Part of working with these communities involves listening to the specific housing needs of each client. Previously, Habitat built single-family homes on vacant lots scattered around the Twin Cities. But now there are five new ways for families to buy a home.
They can buy a newly built single family home; buy a “new generation home” that previously belonged to another Habitat client; buy a starter home that has been pre-purchased by Habitat; working with a real estate agent to buy your own home; or choose a house that Habitat will renovate. Whatever plan clients choose, Habitat will grant them the “affordability gap” mortgage – mortgage payments set at 30% of their income.
In addition to working with new customers, Habitat hopes to expand its operations. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Habitat traditionally built around 50 homes per year. This year, she plans to take out 120 mortgages.
“The plan is to expand [operations] about 20% or more per year; on top of that we will continue to grow, but the main focus is on racial equity, ”she said.
Lawrence attributes these changes to a change in mindset within the nonprofit organization. Instead of acting as a savior, Habitat for Humanity sees itself as a partner.
“We’re going to state that in our strategic plan that we’re going to do our partnerships differently. We’re going to do a lot of listening and then partnering with the people we serve,” Lawrence said.
This year, when the real estate market was booming, Habitat acted quickly. Staff have proactively bought startup homes in the metro area, knowing prices could inflate. This flexibility allowed them to respond more specifically to the needs of their customers, especially those who preferred to live in the suburbs of the First and Second Crowns rather than in the city center.
Habitat plans to continue building unique homes to meet customer needs; Lawrence said the next plan “will be higher density housing. We could build vertical condos… some families may want their first home to be a condo because they prefer that lifestyle.”
Habitat hopes that listening to these communities will enable it to better address racial inequalities in affordable housing. Providing housing for foundational black families will help give these families generational wealth, security and community.
“We want to move from an organization that cares about equity to an organization that is focused on equity,” Lawrence said. “We are really excited about this job.”