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Habitat for Humanity, Chicago South Suburbs (HHCSS), recently dedicated a new home in Park Forest. On hand were representatives from Cook County Government, the Mayor of Park Forest, and a house full of family, friends, neighbors and volunteers. Afterwards, David Tracy, Executive Director, gave us an online interview about the program, the history of its partnership with Cook County, some of the contractors who donate time and gifts-in-kind, and his pursuit of a “green initiative.”
ECD: Can you briefly explain the history of Habitat for Humanity in the South Suburbs (HHCSS) with Cook County, including how many homes you anticipate will be completed this year with funds via HOME and NSP with Cook County?
Tracy: HHCSS was founded in 1988 and in 2013 will be celebrating 25-years of providing affordable homes to low-income families living in the south suburbs of Cook County. Our relationship with Cook County began with certification as a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) in December 2008. The last four years have been associated with rapid growth starting with a $240,000 HOME agreement in 2009 and then rapidly adding additional HOME and now NSP funds. Our mutual goal is to eliminate blight in two communities — Park Forest and Lansing. This is being accomplished with the purchase and rehab of foreclosed homes in neighborhoods targeted by Cook County for redevelopment. We have purchased 28 foreclosed homes— rehab work is completed on ten and all have qualified partner families. Rehab of the remaining 18 homes will be completed by December 2012.
ECD: Can you tell us the names of some of the businesses and contractors in your area who assist with your work and how they’ve been helpful?
Tracy: JE Roofing (Lansing family-owned company) donated one complete, new roof and labor. We benefit from gifts-in-kind provided by the following national Habitat for Humanity sponsors: DOW (insulation), Schneider Electric (electrical supplies), Valspar (interior and exterior paint), Whirlpool (donates stove and refrigerator for every house built in the U.S. – which would include Cook County – and provides other appliances at cost), Yale Locks (interior / exterior door locks and hardware), Larson Doors (storm doors).
ECD: What are the biggest challenges and rewards?
Tracy: The biggest challenge is finding qualified partner families. We offer an interest-free loan with payments for principal, real estate taxes and insurance initially set at 30% of gross monthly income. Most of our applicants are now paying 40% or more of monthly income for rent. Families need to have a regular and dependable source of income, work a minimum of 400 hours of sweat equity helping to build their home and also save $1,500 to be used for closing costs. At the outset, we look for families with average credit (FICO – 525+), no accounts in collection and no outstanding judgments or liens. We also offer credit repair assistance for those willing to repair credit issues.
Rewards are many and all are associated with partner families. The first milestone involves notifying a family they have been approved to become a “partner family”. Normally this is accomplished with a phone call and upon making the announcement there is silence, followed by a shout of joy and then tears of joy. Then a few months later we are joined by friends, family, sponsors and volunteers to dedicate their completed home. This is the moment when keys to the newly rehabbed house are handed over to the future homeowner.
Individuals interested in becoming a partner family should call 708-756-2015. They will be asked to leave their name and address and subsequently be invited to attend a special orientation.
ECD: What role can volunteers play?
Tracy: Volunteers are the lifeblood or our organization and the reason we can efficiently build or rehab homes. At the jobsite, the minimum age for volunteers is 16. Skill is not expected but certainly appreciated. In fact, a majority of our volunteers have never worked on a home. Our responsibility is to coach volunteers so they can work productively and safely. WE work Tuesday through Saturday, from 9am – 3pm. Signing up is easy — go to www.gohabitat.net and follow the “Volunteer” links.
ECD: Can you expand on your vision of not only rebuilding a home but “leaving a footprint” for a neighborhood, including the sustainability (green) initiatives included in the homes you are rehabilitating, and how your work drives economic growth?
Tracy: The housing crisis and associated economic malaise led Habitat to recognize that we needed to change our model. Previously, we built new homes on scattered lots in Chicago Heights, Harvey, Dixmoor, Riverdale and Hazel Crest. In a booming economy this effort was helpful because we helped transform vacant lots in productive homes. Once the economy declined we saw a need to focus on rehabbing vacant, foreclosed homes — new homes were no longer needed. Given the high number of foreclosures in the south suburbs of Cook County we also recognized a need to have an impact on neighborhoods — a focused approach targeting substantive change rather than a scattered-site strategy. We also realized that there were many income-challenged homeowners who needed help maintaining their homes. For this target we offer minor repairs, weatherization and exterior home painting. This effort is known as our “Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative” – NRI.
We pursue a “green initiative” in all rehab work by replacing single-pane windows with double-pane – Low-E windows, use of 95% efficient furnaces and water heaters and addition of insulation to attics, walls, crawl spaces and basements. Our NRI work involved weatherizing homes in Park Forest and Lansing. This work was offered to income-challenged homeowners and was intended to reduce their heating and cooling costs.
This is how we leave a larger footprint — neighborhoods where we are rehabbing homes are the same neighborhoods where we provide neighborhood revitalization assistance.
Our work drives economic growth by virtue of providing work for local contractors, skilled craftsmen and general laborers. As much as possible, we also buy materials from local retailers. In addition, we bring new working families into these communities where they will become associated with the local economy.
Contact UsCook County Bureau of Economic Development
69 W. Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602
312-603-1077 or 1000 (o)
E-mail us at: Info.Edev@cookcountyil.gov
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