The class teaches a variety of home ownership skills and is part of the process for purchasing a Habitat home

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - One of the requirements of the Habitat for Humanity home ownership program is participation in the house-building process.

Zero down, zero interest, and a brand-new home that is large enough for your family.

All you basically have to do is help build it.

It’s an offer that seems too good to be true yet that is exactly what Bend Area Habitat for Humanity is offering. The problem is, no one seems willing to act on it.

“We’re having a hard time recruiting people who say, yes, I want a home,” said Habitat board member Jim Larson, who is also the chairman of the Prineville Steering Committee.

For this reason, Habitat is offering a Homeownership Information Session this Monday at the Crook County Library. These one-hour sessions are only offered two or three times a year, and are required for families interested in applying.

Homeownership for low-income families is Habitat's signature and most publicized program. Once selected, qualified applicants are required to donate “sweat equity” by helping volunteers construct their new home, which is then purchased by them through a no-interest loan with a term of up to 40 years. Along the way, they learn important life skills, such as budgeting, credit management, and homeownership basics.

Four lots in Prineville are ready to be built on, and Habitat is ready for applicants, according to Family Service Manager, DeeDee Johnson, who said they’re “looking at taking another family or two into the program.”

According to Johnson, there are three “areas” that Habitat looks at to determine if an applicant is qualified.

First is the ability to pay. In Crook County, an applicant’s total gross household income must fall within 35-60 percent of the median income in the county, and it must be from a steady source, such as from wages, as opposed to unemployment, for example. Also, according to Johnson, the loan payments cannot exceed 30 percent of the applicant’s take-home income.

“We don’t want them to be unsuccessful,” she said. “We really want to set them up for success as a homeowner.”

A need for improved housing is the second. Is the applicant living in conditions that are unsafe, unhealthy, or inefficient? Are they paying too much for rent? Is the home grossly undersized for the applicant’s family?

“That’s not to say that a single applicant shouldn’t qualify for a home, or apply for a home,” clarified Johnson. “In the last couple of years, we had a single, disabled, male veteran, who bought a home from Habitat, in the Prineville community. We love that partnership just as much.”

Last is the applicant’s willingness to partner with Habitat. This includes a commitment to attend homeowner education classes and to begin a matched, personal savings plan, and a willingness to accept a home at a location of Habitat’s choosing. This is in addition to the sweat equity, the requirements of which can be modified if the applicant is disabled.

“A lot of what we go over (at the information session) are the requirements and the expectations of the program,” she said. “The families have quite a bit to do before we actually start building the home. It’s quite a bit to undertake, but that’s a real foundation for our program. We try to prepare them for home ownership, especially if they’re first-time homebuyers.”

“It’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand up,” said Larson. “They give classes on things that homeowners should know, but don’t know, like how to budget, and what you can expect when you become a homeowner. All of a sudden, if the stove goes out, you don’t call the landlord at that point. You have upkeep and maintenance, and a whole series of classes on the basic stuff like that, to help them.”

Larson also said the prospective and new homeowners aren’t expected to go it alone.

“Each of these people going through that program, we try to get them a mentor that's going to help them, befriend them, encourage them, and help them over the bumps in the road.”

Prospective homeowners should first fill out a preliminary application. This helps Habitat to determine if the applicant meets just the basic qualifications. Although it’s better to have the completed application in hand prior to the information session, it can be acquired and filled out at that time as well, Johnson said.

An application for housing is given to participants after the information session, which includes a financial review section (credit report, utility bills, tax returns, for example) and a section dealing with the applicant's willingness to partner with Habitat and other details.

Johnson encouraged people to attend the session even if it’s just out of curiosity.

“There’s no requirement for them to take an application, once they attend,” she said. “It’s really just great knowledge to know, in terms of what we’re doing in the community and how it looks. It’s something they can apply for a year down the line if they need to, or want to.

“Our committee is ready to start things up again, and they’re excited to start building a home, to get the volunteer community involved in raising the walls. So they’re pretty excited to choose a couple of families.”

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