How tough has the foreclosure crisis been?
So tough that even Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for people in need, finds itself in the mindboggling situation of having to take them back -- in many cases, for the first time in a chapter's history.
"We're in the business of putting people into houses, not taking them out," says John Finnerty, Habitat president and CEO.
I've worked on a Habitat home or two over the years and it is inspiring work. When you're working side by side with the folks who are going to move in, somehow the real-world financial concerns of mortgages and loans seem secondary in the excitement of helping others realize the dream of home ownership.
It's not secondary, of course. A mortgage is just as real for a Habitat family as it is for the rest of us. Although Habitat charges no interest for its loans and makes no profit, it still requires that payments be made because it is the revenue from these mortgage loans that enables Habitat to build more houses.
But leave it to Habitat to find a way to help, even when its own reserves are depleted.
Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, N.C., which built 61 new homes in 2006, will devote just a third of its budget to new construction "builds" this year and instead shift its focus to major home repairs and fixing up foreclosures for resale.
Its Critical Home Repair Program corrects major housing code violations, helping families stay in their home longer and protect the existing stock of affordable housing.
The shift also benefits the hardest hit neighborhoods by putting families instead of investors into foreclosed homes. Given the fire-sale prices, Habitat Charlotte figures it can rehab and put families into foreclosures for $60,000 to $70,000 as opposed to $80,000 to $100,000 for new construction.
Despite the seemingly endless stream of discouraging news on the housing front, I'm buoyed by the resilience being shown by Habitat for Humanity.
I'll bet on good people over bad times any day.
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