Grant Update: Habitat for Humanity Building Opportunities in Southern Indiana

First-time home ownership can be a rite of passage for those lucky enough to experience it. Getting the keys and spending your first night in your newly purchased house is typically a cause for celebration and reflection.

But homeownership isn’t easy – competitive purchase prices, closing fees, and potentially expensive upkeep costs await … and that’s just in the first month. Financially, owning a house is just not a possibility for everyone in our community.

According to the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana’s Priorities for Progress: Assets and Aspirations in Southern Indiana 2021, which explores the community’s aspirations for building on its assets to address the area’s highest priorities and greatest challenges, access to affordable housing sits at the top of the region’s wish list.

One look at local real estate websites begins to paint a clearer picture of the issue. Based on available homes in Floyd County, as of December 2022, the average cost of a three-bedroom house is $267,450. In Clark County, the figures aren’t much better, with a three-bedroom home selling for a median price of $248,500.

With soaring prices, hardworking families are being pushed out of the housing market, especially with the lack of affordable housing options in Clark and Floyd counties. The rental market also remains a challenge, according to Priorities for Progress, as low vacancy rates has kept rent prices high since 2008.

Fortunately, local nonprofit organizations are teaming up to provide housing opportunities to lower-wage workers and families. And the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate is at the epicenter of this residential change, teaming up with organizations – including the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana (CFSI) – to give families an opportunity at first-time home ownership.

Habitat for Humanity Making Waves in Clark & Floyd Counties

Jackie Isaacs

When Jackie Isaacs took over the local Habitat for Humanity chapter in New Albany in November, she knew she had big shoes to fill replacing Jerry Leonard, who spent nearly a decade as the Executive Director at the nonprofit. But Jackie wasn’t afraid of a challenge, especially possessing 15 years of experience working at the Louisville affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.

“I spent a lot of time in Louisville, but I actually live in Floyd County, so the move over here just makes sense,” Jackie says. “I’m really happy to take charge of some projects on this side of the river and bring the experience I learned from Louisville over here.”

Since 1991, the New Albany affiliate of Habitat for Humanity has built nearly 50 homes locally, including 10 that were built in Henryville following the devastating tornadoes in 2012. CFSI partnered for that rebuilding process, offering emergency funding and staff volunteer time to support that community in a time of need.

Roughly four years later, the two organizations, along with other community businesses and nonprofits, teamed up again to help fight the affordable housing crunch. In 2016, Habitat for Humanity applied for – and was awarded – a Catalyst Grant worth $15,000.

“Every dollar that comes into this affiliate goes directly towards filling the home with necessary amenities, and every donation goes toward growth of current and future builds,” Jackie says. “So when we were awarded the $15,000 from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, that money essentially covered the electrical and HVAC systems – two important aspects of the home. The CFSI grant played a vital role.”

The house, which is located in downtown New Albany, would go on to be purchased by Keisha Williams, a New Albany resident who is still living in the house.

Keisha’s Story

Keisha Williams

Keisha Williams was born in Chicago, but was raised in Kalamazoo, Mich. Like so many vulnerable women, Keisha was a teen mom who was trapped in an abusive relationship. As her relationship continued to deteriorate, she made the decision to flee the toxic situation with her children.

“My situation wasn’t right, and I shouldn’t have been treated the way I was treated. And I didn’t want my children to think that staying in a situation like that is ok,” Keisha says. “So I moved into a shelter and I did everything that was asked of me. I know my worth and I deserve better.”

Originally, Keisha and her family were slated to move to Utah. But a last-minute reconnection with her mother, who was moving to Louisville, Ky. in the coming weeks, changed that trajectory. With only the belongings they could carry on their backs, the mother and her five young children boarded a Greyhound bus en route to the largest city in the Bluegrass State.

“When I got to Louisville, I lived in the projects. I didn’t have Section 8 – I just paid my rent every month,” Keisha says. “A landlord eventually came to me with an opportunity one day. He said he was donating land in New Albany to Habitat for Humanity, and that I should keep an eye on the property. Well, I did, and I eventually qualified for the program through Habitat. I did all the necessary steps, took all the classes – I just really bought into the whole thing. I wanted my kids to have a foundation to build from, and I think that’s what sold it to Habitat. I just told them that I want an opportunity to break these generational curses.”

Eventually, Keisha was approved to purchase the house in 2016. And while Habitat provided the house’s foundation, Keisha was responsible for everything on the inside: painting, decorating, and other household tasks.

“All of the kids helped work on the house, painting and doing everything I asked them to do,” Keisha says. “It was work, but it made them take pride in this house. It was theirs. It’s not the best and it’s not all extravagant, but it’s a place that we can call home. They took ownership in that.”

The home is a far cry from the public housing where her family started. Nestled on a quiet street that overlooks greenery from the front porch, it provides something that Keisha and her family had never experienced in Michigan: a sense of community.

“I had temporarily lost some of my kids to the system. They were just on the wrong track, but we lived in places where they were exposed to things like that daily,” Keisha says. “Being here, they didn’t see that. They were exposed to a community who looked out for each other. Everyone got along, and we never really had any issues with anything or anyone around here.”

The Habitat for Humanity program has been especially inspiring to one of Keisha’s sons, Kaiden. The current high school student is taking construction classes at Prosser, where he has found a passion for building homes.

And one of the class projects they do annually is – you guessed it – helping to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

“When the house was being built, we drove by the site every single week to track progress and all Kaiden wanted to do was get out and help,” Keisha says. “He was too young at the time, but now he loves the construction classes he’s taking at Prosser. He takes pride in his work, and now he wants to open his own construction business one day. It’s crazy how the experience has kind of come full circle for him.”

Ultimately, the home has provided Keisha with an opportunity to build something special for future family generations.

“This house provided that foundation and security to know that even if we have to cram beds in here, it’s about everybody helping everybody,” Keisha says. “It has given us an opportunity to thrive and survive. When COVID-19 hit, yeah it was a struggle, but with my mortgage payment, I wasn’t struggling as much as other people who had high rental rates. It gave me a sense of stability because I know at the end of the day, I can just come home.”

In addition to providing her with a sense of stability, the house has also improved Keisha’s sense of self-worth.

“I am a better version of myself. It’s not that I’m better than you, but I am definitely better than I was when I was there,” Keisha says. “I used to walk to the grocery store and take a cab back. I did all of that. So, to sit here right now and tell you that I have a house and two vehicles – nobody can tell me about the struggle. I did that. I survived and I thrived, all for the sake of my children.”

How Does the Habitat for Humanity Home Buying Concept Work?

For participants, the home-buying process offered by Habitat for Humanity is a life-changing opportunity to improve generational wealth. But the program has also been very beneficial for Habitat for Humanity, according to Jackie, as it has created a ripple effect felt by many throughout the Southern Indiana community.

“I always try to dispel the notion that Habitat is a free giveaway program,” Jackie says. “It obviously costs money to build the houses, and then we sell them at-cost. That money would have gone into the hard cost of the home, so we basically charge under the value of the home and try to find sponsorships like the Community Foundation, donors, and other supporters to help us defray the cost. It turns into a community-oriented project.”

The genius of the plan, for Jackie, comes from the financial side of the purchase. Home buyers will pay 0% interest for 25 years, with mortgages covering all overhead costs.

“In reality, the more we build, the more we can build,” Jackie says.

It also helps the homeowner too, such as Keisha. After purchasing the house in her 30s, she is poised to pay off her mortgage before she reaches age 60.

“I have a 20-year mortgage payment left that I’m going to have paid off by the time I’m 55,” Keisha says. “I’ll be done paying this off before I retire. Like, come on, who gets this opportunity?! I will forever be in debt to Habitat for Humanity for this opportunity.”

And building more is exactly what Habitat for Humanity is planning to do. The organization plans on building 10 homes over the next two years in Jeffersonville, creating a newly formed community from what is currently an empty street.

“That empty street is going to be filled with kids on bikes and people grilling,” Jackie says. “This homeowner is somebody that’s going to care about that community so it can transform the neighborhood and the entire community by having a home buyer that will be there for a long time.”

As for the future of the house with Keisha? Well, let’s just say she has some inspiring plans on her own.

“The future of this house will be dedicated to my grandkids. I will have different rooms for my boy and girl grandkids – plus a big ‘ol master room for me,” Keisha laughs. “But I feel like if I ever had a chance to rent this out, I would rent it out to second-chance renters because people make mistakes when they’re younger. They deserve an opportunity like the rest of us. If not that, then I would like to turn it into a Safe Place or domestic violence shelter. It’s a passion to help people in a way that will continue to benefit our community as a whole.”

To read other local Stories of Impact like this one, please click here.

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