On Saturday, an unassuming and committed group of volunteers set off to begin construction of a Habitat for Humanity house in South Miami-Dade. Although a scene like this plays out almost every weekend across the county, this particular build took on special significance — it marked the kickoff of Habitat’s 1,000th home in Miami-Dade.
This home, sponsored by Baptist Health, a committed Habitat sponsor, will be built over the course of 12 Saturdays and be completed in time for Thanksgiving.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami’s success is based on the simplicity of its model. We identify hard-working low-income families — line cooks, school cafeteria workers, lab techs, mechanics — the people who keep our economy running but who do not make enough money to qualify for a traditional loan.
They, in turn, commit to hundreds of “sweat equity” hours working on each other’s homes, attend a series of workshops to give them the tools to succeed, then purchase their own homes at cost or appraised value, whichever is lower. Habitat provides the financing via a zero-percent mortgage.
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Nothing is given away for free. Habitat is a hand up, not a handout, and our success is evident with the less-than-1-percent default rate in our 25-year history. To date, Habitat has built close to 400 homes in Liberty City alone and features communities in Miami Gardens, South Miami, Overtown, Perrine, Homestead and other parts of Miami-Dade.
Habitat works hard to keep costs low. As a true nonprofit, we do not charge a developer’s fee because that cost would only be passed on to the families, who all fall below 80-percent of Area Mean Income. We also build for as much as half of the cost of a rental unit. Once the house is sold, there are no subsidies, grants or any further need to rely on taxpayers for assistance, which is usually not the case in the low-income rental world. Habitat is a one-time investment that helps transform communities by placing caring and permanent residents into neighborhoods.
Ownership is also a great investment in public infrastructure. Last year alone, Habitat families contributed more than $1 million in property taxes to Miami-Dade County. In a successful private/public partnership, more than 350 Habitat homes have been built on abandoned or derelict county-owned lots, which are made available to low-income builders. Additionally, Habitat has worked with Miami-Dade County in building homes in the once-controversial Scott-Carver projects and other developments where the larger players failed to deliver.
Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of government affordable-housing dollars have been going to well-organized and savvy rental developers for many years. Although the need for rental housing is real, there needs to be a better balance in dollars disbursed to build homeownership in our communities.
The corporate community and donors have invested in Habitat’s transparent and effective model for years because they have seen the tangible results. As government affordable-housing dollars become available, our elected officials would be wise to ensure that a model like Habitat’s is rewarded with resources to build on its success. As the system is set up today, the Habitat model can’t compete in an application process that fails to embrace our unique business model.
These dollars not only are the best value for our taxpayers, but also an investment in families, communities and the long-term health of Miami-Dade. We can point to 1,000 examples in Miami-Dade alone that prove this to be the case.
Mario Artecona is CEO Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami.