Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg Homebuyer Applications Continue Record Climb as Affordable Housing Remains a Challenge for Many
Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg received 250 applications from prospective homebuyers a year ago – the most in its history and nearly double from 2021.
In 2023, that number soared to 282 applications, largely from families in need of affordable housing in a region where finding the land to build homes remains challenging.
“There’s an incredible need out there,” said Janet V. Green, CEO of the local affiliate of the international nonprofit. “As we tend to see with housing, when the mortgage rates are high, everybody is searching for affordable housing and that puts significant strain on low to moderate income families. Because, quite frankly, moderate to higher income families scoop up whatever affordable places there may be first.”
Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg received 112 applications in 2020 and 140 in 2021 before the need skyrocketed in 2022.
Applications were accepted between April 1-28, 2023. “On the last day of our application cycle this year, we received more applications than we had during the entire month,” said Meka Stewart, Family Services Director for the affiliate.
A family selection committee reviews and selects the future homebuyers for Habitat’s first-time Homebuyer Program based on need, ability to pay and willingness to partner. The committee includes Habitat board members and community members with professional expertise in affordable housing options, including other nonprofits and government agencies.
Habitat partners with families to build or renovate homes in its service area that extends from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel to New Kent County. Families must agree to make on-time monthly mortgage payments to Habitat, offered at zero interest for up to 30 years. Those payments are cycled back into the community so more homes can be built. Families also must agree to complete at least 300 sweat equity hours, working on their homes, other Habitat homes under construction and at the Habitat ReStores.
As part of the process, applicants must show they have steady income, live or work in Habitat’s service area and are paying their bills on time.
Stewart said the majority of people who apply are turned down due to incomplete applications and poor credit.
While applicants are given 30 days to resolve their credit issues, that often isn’t enough time to affect the application for the current year. Those applicants are encouraged to reapply the following year and are referred to local housing counseling agencies for credit, budgeting and homebuyer education classes.
The demand for affordable housing exceeds Habitat’s capacity. The affiliate with 10 homes under construction currently for families who have been selected is committed to partnering with six new families.
“We strive to build 10 a year,” Green said. “We can only build on land we have available, and we need to have more land so we can get back up to 10.”
Habitat is open to exploring all options to obtain land, including acquiring larger parcels that need to be subdivided, accepting estate planning gifts and handling all the necessary legwork.
“It doesn’t have to be undeveloped land,” Green said. “If there’s a house on it, we can renovate that house.”
Increasing community support is also essential to fulfill Habitat’s mission. The affiliate operates ReStores in Newport News, Williamsburg and Yorktown. All of the ReStores need more donations; pickup is free. All proceeds from ReStore sales are donated to building Habitat homes in this service area. Volunteer for the ReStores, home builds and repairs are always needed.
Vehicles, everything from cars to trucks or boats and construction/farm equipment (even if they aren’t operable), can also be donated. Monetary donations are always appreciated. A donation of $20 buys a box of nails; every donation of $104 contributes to one square foot of a Habitat home.
“Our hearts are heavy because we’d love to put ourselves out of business because that would mean everyone has affordable housing and our mission wouldn’t need to exist anymore,” Green said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We know there’s a credible need, and we need everybody to help us fill that need.”