‘Everything but a giveaway’
Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan celebrates 30 years
ALPENA — Thirty years ago, a small group of parishioners with First Congregational United Church of Christ began discussions as to how they would start their first Habitat for Humanity project.
Max Lindsay was among that group.
Lindsay said the Rev. Bob Case, who was pastor of the church at the time, had heard of Habitat for Humanity and was looking for a project for the church to take on. Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 in Americus, Ga., by farmer Clarence Jordan.
Lindsay said a group of 16 to 18 parishioners spent a weekend in Cadillac in July 1989 insulating the house on what Lindsay describes as “the hottest weekend ever known to mankind.” When the group returned from the excursion, Lindsay said they decided it was a project they were going to take on.
A notice was put in the paper, according to Lindsay, letting the public know they would hold a meeting. About 15 to 20 people from outside of the church attended.
“We kept waiting for the sun to shine down on us and give us the nod that this was going to work, and, of course, that doesn’t happen,” Lindsay said, chuckling. They kept asking themselves how they were going to build a house with no money.
So they held a second meeting, which became the organizational meeting for the Alpena Area Habitat for Humanity.
During that meeting, the group decided to “take a leap of faith” and agreed to become an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and form a family selection committee so people in Alpena could begin applying for a home.
“I was on the family selection committee, and we selected a single mom with a couple of children at that time,” Lindsay said. “She was a wonderful candidate.”
That woman paid off her home about five years ago without ever missing a payment.
The Alpena Area Habitat for Humanity completed its first home in 1990, the same year their affiliation with Habitat for Humanity was granted. The group dedicated their 10th home in 1999, according to the organization’s website.
Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope. The nonprofit organization helps low-income families become homeowners.
“The idea of Habitat is to build simple and affordable housing for people who can’t get regular commercial loans simply because they don’t qualify financially,” Lindsay said. “A lot of people think Habitat is a giveaway program. It is everything but a giveaway program.”
Lindsay said the entire cost of the home is paid for by the homeowner and they either pay no interest or reduced interest on the mortgage.
The organization also has a “sweat equity” requirement, according to Lindsay, which means the homeowner provides 500 hours of service to the organization. No more than 250 of those volunteer hours can be spent on their own home. The other 250 hours either have to be completed on another Habitat project or working at the ReStore, Habitat for Humanity’s retail outlet for home supplies, appliances, and furniture.
The Alpena Habitat opened its ReStore in 2005, according to Executive Director Ted Fines. The store, at 400 W. Chisholm St., has more than 12,000 square feet of sales space.
Fines said the ReStore not only provides the community with the opportunity to shop for lightly used building equipment, but also provides revenue that can be used to build more homes. Fines said the ReStore generates between $200,000 and $250,000 in revenue annually.
The Alpena Area Habitat for Humanity merged with Alcona County’s Habitat for Humanity program in 2011, according to Fines, which is also when the organization’s name changed to Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan. The organization merged with Presque Isle County’s program in 2014.
“We have been involved with close to 90 homes, and it’s not just homes,” Fines said. “We’ve done hundreds — if not approaching thousands — of repairs, and that includes critical home repairs,” such as roof fixes or replacements and the installation of handicap ramps.
Fines said they have also done a number of projects for women and veterans. They also help seniors with upgrades needed in their homes so they can remain in their homes as they age.
Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan is currently building a home for a family of three on a formerly vacant lot on Spratt Street on Alpena’s north side. The organization is getting ready to do some projects in Presque Isle County and has also received funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority so it can build three modular homes in Harrisville.
Lindsay, who is now board president for the local Habitat, said one of the goals for the future is to have builds going on in all three counties simultaneously. To reach that goal, the nonprofit would need to have three construction managers. The organization currently has one construction manager and two construction trailers.
Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan also relies heavily on the talents of volunteers in the community who work to construct homes, raise funds for the organization or participate in the family selection committee.
“There are just all kinds of things that people can do that help so much,” Lindsay said. “Without all of those volunteer hours, we wouldn’t be here.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan should contact Volunteer Coordinator Joy Rockett at 989-354-5555, ext 1003.