by NATHANIEL NELSON
In a neighborhood in Minnesota City, a blue house sits idle, waiting for a new owner. While it may just look like any other home from the outside, the home has a history –– it was the 35th home constructed by Habitat for Humanity (HFH) and helped a family find stability in a trying time.
The home is back on the market as part of HFH’s homeownership program, where families who meet a set of general guidelines are eligible for affordable housing in homes built by HFH volunteers and the homeowners. Potential homeowners must fall between 30 and 60 percent of the median Winona County income, be unable to obtain a conventional mortgage, and have a housing need. If one is approved, they are able to take out a no-interest mortgage through HFH and move into the home.
“Habitat homes are special because our mission as an organization is that everyone has a place to live,” HFH Executive Director Amanda Hedlund said. “People can find themselves living in poverty and with limited housing.”
HFH is a national nonprofit that aims to provide housing to families in need through community-sourced volunteer building projects and fundraising. On average, the organization has built two homes a year since its formation 25 years ago, and it is still going strong.
“In the last two years, we’ve repaired 68 different homes,” Hedlund said. These repairs range from new roofs to ramps for people with disabilities and everything in between. The goal, she explained, is to give every family stable and affordable housing.
“A home constitutes roughly 80 percent of a person’s average personal wealth. It is the bedrock of stability for a family,” Hedlund said. “If you live in housing that is random or expensive, or moldy or sick, or falling down around you, it’s hard to be present and alive. When you have a safe and stable home environment, you have the cornerstone of a secure life.”
The homes are fairly simple, Hedlund said; there’s nothing ornate or intricate in their designs, and many people have a much grander idea of what their dream home would be.
Sometimes, like with the home in Minnesota City, families choose to move before their 30-year Habitat mortgage is up. However, for some, a Habitat home is exactly what they are looking for.
“If your dream home is having a home where everyone is safe, then it is a dream home,” Hedlund said.
John Corcoran is the construction manager at Habitat, and he helps guide potential homeowners through the construction process. For each home, there is an application process where a new homeowner is selected, who then contributes 325 hours of their own laborinto the build, but they are not alone.
“The home is built by volunteers who care a lot about our community, and it’s built in conjunction with a family who is right there with us, side by side,” Corcoran said. Volunteers come from local businesses, churches, and other organizations in teams of 12 to 15, Corcoran said. Some volunteers have never touched a tool in their life, while others have some practice working with wood and cement, but there are no requirements for the nine-month construction process.
“You don’t need any experience to come volunteer. It’s my job to teach,” Corcoran said.
When volunteers arrive on site, they are shown the ropes by Corcoran, and start the building process. Some aspects, like electricity, plumbing and heating are done by contractors, but otherwise everything is built by volunteers and the homeowners themselves.
“Usually, we build our houses out of insulated concrete forms [and they are] built to the Minnesota green communities standard,” Corcoran said. This allows the homes to be as energy efficient as possible, allowing families to keep their costs down while keeping their home warm. In the winter, heating costs can skyrocket, so by building the homes as efficient as possible, they can keep families’ bills as low as possible.
“We’re putting together a home for a family in need in our community,” Corcoran said.
Kim Grcic, a local mother-of-two, was part of one such family. Nineteen years ago, Grcic was in a tough spot and had been moving around frequently.
“I had moved six times in five years and went through two divorces, and my life was a total mess. [The apartments] just got worse as we went, and it was really hard on the kids. We had just unpacked and we were packing up to move,” she explained. “I thought that if I could have that home, my life would improve immensely.”
She applied to Habitat twice before getting the call that she was chosen. From there, she put in the necessary hours to help build and plan it before having a home to call her own. She described the home as a godsend which marked the end of her family’s migratory lifestyle.
“It was just amazing. It was a feeling of being stable, complete, of having something of our own that nobody can take away,” she said.
The next 19 years were not a walk in the park, with their ups and downs –– not dissimilar to what many people go through. However, this time, she had something to look to as a crutch.
“There were hard years, and there were good years. But we always had this home to call our own. It gave us stability and permanence,” Grcic said. “I thank God for Habitat, and I think it’s an awesome program. I think all of the homeowners feel like I do.”
Grcic isn’t planning on leaving her home anytime soon, but other families have chosen differently. The open home in Minnesota City is one of three homes that have gone back into the Habitat system in the past few years as families move on to bigger houses. However, Hedlund doesn’t see the family leaving as a bad thing, but instead a sign of hope.
“We’re happy for people when they are able to get what may have been their dream house, and we have been a step on that path of building stability,” Hedlund explained.
For more information about the Minnesota City home or for volunteer information, contact HFH at 507-457-0003, visit its offices at 126 North Baker Street, in Winona, or visit https://habitatwinona.org/.