How does Habitat for Humanity’s family selection process work?

February 18th, 2020

When a family is selected for Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg’s homeownership program, it is a life-changing opportunity—and that’s not hyperbole.

Studies show that Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just help families attain the American Dream of homeownership—the organization’s “hand up” approach helps lift families out of poverty and puts them on the road to self-sufficiency. In the short term, Habitat for Humanity increases homeownership; in the long term, its work helps to reduce the need for government subsidies. Habitat homeowners show improved health outcomes after they are settled into their new homes. And neighborhoods benefit from the stabilizing effect Habitat homeowners provide, including lower crime rates.

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That’s why when you contribute money or time to Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg, you can trust that your contribution will have a lasting and deep impact—not only on a hard-working family, but on the community as a whole.

How Habitat selects families and helps others

These cascading benefits all start with Habitat for Humanity’s family selection process. Because there are many more families who need access to affordable housing than Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg can help at any one time, the organization takes its time to ensure each family it selects is ready to completely take advantage of the opportunity.

That sometimes means providing guidance and connections to other resources to an applicant first. For example, while Habitat does not require a minimum credit score, it does impose limitations on how much debt an applicant can have to be selected for a home.

“But we don’t want someone who has a large amount of debt to be dissuaded and be turned away completely, so we refer them to one of our community partners, Carolina Foothills Credit Union, who can help them with that,” Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg Director of Development Lynne Shackleford explained. “They are usually able to work with them to reduce their debt over six to 12 months, and then they come back to us.”

Most families initially contact Habitat for Humanity through word-of-mouth referrals. “They hear about us in the media or from other people, co-workers or friends,” Shackleford said. “We have a school custodian who became a homeowner, and she told a friend she works with about what we do, and her friend came in and applied. That is a measure of success in getting the word out.”

The best way for interested families to begin the process is to attend one of the organization’s interest meetings that it holds in different locations across the community twice a month. Interest meetings are opportunities for potential applicants to learn what the program entails and to give Habitat permission to obtain a copy of their credit reports.

Criteria for eligible Habitat families

Habitat for Humanity has three basic criteria a family must meet to be selected for the homeownership program:

  • They must have a demonstrated need for housing. This could mean they currently live in substandard rental housing, or they live in a dangerous neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity’s citizen-led family services committee conducts a home visit and prepares a report to determine if the applicant meets this need. If they do, the family is then referred to the organization’s full board.
  • They must have the ability to pay the mortgage for the new Habitat home. Shackleford says that as long as the applicant is employed, this is usually not a problem, because “100 percent of the time, the mortgage is cheaper than the rental they are currently in.” All Habitat mortgages are zero-interest, 30-year loans.
  • They must be willing to be a true partner, not just a beneficiary. This includes contributing 350 hours of sweat equity, 100 of which must be completed before they are qualified for their own Habitat home. This requirement also includes completing financial literacy and homeowner maintenance classes.

“We also encourage them to get involved in their community,” Shackleford said. “Join the neighborhood watch or the neighborhood association, attend city or county council meetings. It’s not easy; it’s hard work. It takes usually a year to 18 months to go through the program. But it is so worth it.”

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