Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in approximately 70 countries. Habitat’s vision is of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. To make that happen, Habitat for Humanity volunteers build homes that working people can purchase through 0% interest loans and using their own labor as part of the down payment.
Here in the Bitterroot Valley, Habitat for Humanity has built 15 homes since 2005, in Corvallis, Darby, Hamilton, Stevensville and Victor. Right now, one is being finished in Darby, and another is being started.
“The homes are not a gift,” stresses Bob Fifield, who has been president of the Bitterroot group’s board of directors for the last five-and-a-half years. “The people have to buy them, and they will have a mortgage based on a professional appraisal.”
“Our main mission is to build homes,” said Fifield. “We work with our local Montana banks and the Board of Housing to provide 0% interest loans. The people must stay in the home for 10 years. This is for people who for one reason or another would have a hard time getting financing. They must also contribute sweat equity, with a down payment of 500 hours of work for a couple and 250 hours for a single person.”
All the houses are built to code, in 2-, 3- or 4-bedroom models, depending on the size of the family. Six different designs are available to meet varying lot shapes. All the materials are new. Labor is all-volunteer, and is donated by many of the skilled people in the valley – plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc. “It’s community involvement,” said Fifield.
A good portion of the cost of materials is raised through sales at the ReSale Store on Old Corvallis Road in Hamilton. They take in good, used materials, including building materials, furniture and home décor, and resell them to the public.
“This helps the store, the community and the home buyers,” says Bill Bean, Executive Director of Ravalli County Habitat for Humanity.
But, says Bean, “the biggest issue right now is there are just no lots available for us to buy” on which to build more Habitat homes. He admits that the price of lots is also a factor, since they have gone up in the current boom from $35-45k for a lot in town to $69-70k. “But the biggest limiting factor is that there are just no lots.”
He said they are in need of lots in Hamilton or any of the valley communities. The lots can be rural or in town. “People just don’t seem to want to sell their empty lots right now,” said Bean.
Bean and Fifield said they want the public to know what a worthwhile program this is and to consider donating or selling them a lot. “This is a great program,” said Fifield. “We don’t get political in anything that we do. It’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand up. When you see what it does for the families – it’s just amazing.”
Bean said the local program has five full-time employees, “a great group of people.” The store, in a big, rambling building that also houses the office, is leased and they have been notified that it’s now for sale. According to Bean, buying it is not a possibility for Habitat, due to the price. He said that the office could move anywhere, but it will be more difficult to find a new home for the ReStore which is such a valuable community asset.
“But this is not the critical issue for us right now,” emphasized Bean. “Finding the land to build homes on is our main priority.”
The local Habitat for Humanity has a seven-member board, with members from Stevensville to Darby. “It’s a diverse group,” said Fifield.
“I’m very happy to be able to work with this program,” said Bean. “It’s a great group of people.”
“I grew up in Darby,” adds Fifield. “I graduated from Darby High School in 1971. It felt good to move back after a long career elsewhere and give back to this community. What this valley gave to me growing up was wonderful and now I can give back.”
He encouraged others to find out about participating by calling Bill Bean at 375-1926. And, if you have an empty lot that you have no plans for…