Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Charlottesville Region is a non profit organization dedicated to creating affordable housing in partnership with low income households and the communities of Greater Charlottesville. Since 1991, it has built and sold more than 140 homes in the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Greene County, Louisa County, and Buckingham County, providing affordable housing to over 2,000 low-income residents.
Habitat ultimately strives to be a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out.’ After going through a rigorous selection process, partner households must agree to provide sweat equity (dedicating between 200 and 500 hours to helping to build their own and other partner families houses), attend classes and training with credit and housing counselors, participate in partnership and Good Neighbor meetings once a month, and pledge to responsibly maintain their new home. They must also agree to stay current with their monthly mortgage payment, which is no more than 21% to 27% of their gross family income at time of sale.
When choosing a building site, Habitat aims to revitalize and redevelop previously substandard areas, such as aging trailer parks. Its employees, partners, and volunteers rebuild these areas as mixed income neighborhoods with a variety of housing styles, preventing gentrification and residential displacement. It makes a continuous effort to involve the existing residents of the area in the planning process by conducting neighborhood surveys, hosting focus group discussions, and holding community design charrettes. Habitat also supports the creation of homeowner associations and provides on-site family recreation, health, and social services.
In addition to positively impacting the local economy and property values, Habitat has vastly improved the lives of its partner households. Most report that their financial situations have improved, as well as their health, quality of life, and life satisfaction. Some partners have also obtained better jobs and additional education. Many become less reliant on financial assistance programs, such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Energy Assistance. Overall, Habitat has provided all of its partners with an opportunity to accumulate wealth and make substantial financial progress through homeownership.
Nonetheless, with Habitat's limited funding and workforce, it cannot be seen as the sole solution to the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville and surrounding areas. Habitat currently works exclusively with low-income households, yet there are many lower-middle class and even middle-class residents of Greater Charlottesville who struggle to pay for their housing. There are also numerous low-income households who do not make it through Habitat's rigorous selection process.
Instead, one can view Habitat's program strategy as a solution to the crisis. If more local housing programs and organizations adopted similar practices as Habitat, then perhaps more residents will have access to affordable housing. The ultimate key seems to be a pathway to homeownership. Without owning a home, low to middle income households have little opportunity to build wealth and guarantee long-term financial security.