Habitat homes may be rented instead of purchased

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It's been a year since Jimmy Carter brought thousands of Habitat volunteers to South Mississippi, so we figured this was a good time to find out if Habitat for Humanity was able to sustain the momentum it created during that week long building blitz.

Volunteers are still coming to the coast. In March and April, Habitat for Humanity averaged about 250 new workers a week. What they're building right now are more than just affordable homes people can purchase.

Despite the late afternoon heat, volunteers from Dreambuilders kept up a frenetic construction pace. This was the Maryland group's third visit to a Habitat for Humanity building site in south Mississippi. Lisa Ghessie was on work detail at a home on 38th Avenue in Gulfport.

"You've gotta get back down here and help these people," she said. "You can still see the need. We just want to see people in these homes."

Brad Holland is the site manager at the Habitat site.

"Everybody's coming down strong, uplifting hands together, really bringing creation to the coast," Holland said.

After Katrina, Habitat administrators set a lofty goal. They wanted volunteers to build 1,000 homes in the region that got hammered by the hurricane; however, Chris Monforton said that goal has changed just a bit, because market conditions have changed.

"Maybe there's a need for 500 new construction home ownership houses, but there's a need for a thousand rental houses, affordable rental homes," the Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast CEO said. "And so, we're trying to evaluate and look at how can we best fit some of those needs."

Habitat volunteers are still building new homes that families can buy. 10 are going up near the 38th Avenue location in Gulfport. And 28 are about to be built in Long Beach. But, the organization is also getting into the rental business. It recently partnered with Mercy Housing to launch what's being called a home incubator program.

"Not everybody is ready for the responsibility of home ownership, but there is still an ongoing need for affordable housing," said Monforton.

The Habitat rental plan moves people into rental homes for 30 percent of their salaries.

"With the goal at the end of the 24 months that whether it be credit issues, income issues or just basic preparedness, that at the end of the 24 months, they're ready to buy a home," Monforton explained.

Whether the home Dreambuilders worked on was purchased or rented didn't matter to the volunteer group. All the Maryland volunteers cared about was getting a roof over somebody's head as quickly as possible.

"We go back to see the homes we built the previous year," Ghessie said. "It's so rewarding to see that there's families in those homes, and they've got back their lives together."

Shadows finally crept across this Habitat work site, cooling off the otherwise hot afternoon.  There was just enough shade to comfort volunteers while they wrapped up another day of home building.

"Thanks for today," Holland said to his hard working visitors. "Thanks for your aching bones, your sore bodies."

More importantly, Holland said, thanks for your dedication to Habitat for Humanity.

When Carter Work Project volunteers were in Biloxi last May, they built 10 Habitat homes near Yankie Stadium. Seven of those homes now have owners living in them. The people picked for the other three properties lost their eligibility.

Those homes may be reassigned to other families who qualify for the Habitat program, or they'll become part of Habitat's new rental program.

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