Archive for Thursday, June 29, 2000

Home at last

Eudora resident chosen by Habitat forHumanity as recipient of home

June 29, 2000

A local resident has been chosen to live in a Eudora Habitat for Humanity home. Habitat will provide affordable housing for a family in need and expand the organization's operations outside of Lawrence.

Karen Williams was selected by Habitat for Humanity for a home to be built by Habitat. Williams raises three grandchildren and provides daycare for three others in her mobile home. Her space decreasing, Williams searched but was unable to find an affordable house without moving out of Eudora. She didn't want to pull the children from Eudora's school system so she looked to Habitat for help. Her acceptance by Habitat, she said, was like divine intervention.

"The space is just horrendous in here for four of us," Williams said. "There would be no other way that I could get a house. It's really, really an answer to prayer."

Karen Williams (left) was selected by Habitat for Humanity for a
home to be built by the non-profit organization that provides
low-cost housing for qualified recipients. Williams cares for her
three grandchildren (from left, clockwise) Kelly, Adam and Amanda
and provides care services for three other children.

Karen Williams (left) was selected by Habitat for Humanity for a home to be built by the non-profit organization that provides low-cost housing for qualified recipients. Williams cares for her three grandchildren (from left, clockwise) Kelly, Adam and Amanda and provides care services for three other children.

Habitat helps qualifying recipients by finding land, building homes and selling them at cost. Homes are built with an average cost of $50,000 with the buyer working 350-375 hours of "sweat equity" toward the home's completion. Volunteers work on all aspects of the homes except for electric and plumbing.

After applying in March, Williams underwent in-depth scrutiny for qualification. Habitat interviewed her neighbors, ran a credit check and even stopped by her home to examine living conditions.

"The whole nine yards," Williams said. "You're checked out really good."

If a letter is sent to applicants, they don't move on to the next selection stage. A phone call meant she was closer to having her home.

Her phone rang.

Her life changed for the better.

Last week, she interviewed before a Habitat board and was quickly notified she had been selected over four other applicants for the new home.

"I can't tell you how happy I am," Williams said. "I was so excited. I feel so bad for the other families who got so close and didn't make it. I know how I would have felt."

Habitat loans are interest-free, helping the new homeowner build equity in the process. Sites are sometimes acquired when a city condemns land or sells previously owned land to a Habitat participant. The organization raises money through gifts from corporations and individuals, relying on little help from local governments.

In this instance, the Eudora City Council was able help Habitat provide a home locally.

At its June 14 meeting, the council voted to sell a 50' by 50' piece of property to the organization for $1. The land, at 625 Locust, was a former water tower site. Purchased by the city in 1937, it has been vacant since the tower was torn down in November 1993. No property taxes were collected or assessed values were added to it due to the city's tax-exempt status. Donna Oleson, city clerk, said the city's purpose in selling the land cheaply was to give Habitat a break, knowing it will do the same for someone needing low-income housing.

"They could have sold it and made some profit, but I think they did it as a good gesture to get Habitat started in Eudora," Oleson said.

As a good gesture, Linda Klinker, program director, said Habitat couldn't be happier with the outcome.

"We're so excited to be out in Eudora I can't believe it," Klinker said. "The thing about the Habitat is that we build where we have lots. We didn't know that we were going to get this lot in Eudora, but (Williams) was chosen anyway."

Dan Neuenswander, vice president of Habitat, said an invitation from Eudora Mayor Fred Stewart got the ball rolling for Habitat to consider expanding to Eudora.

"We were, of course, pleased to be invited, and to know the only way to get started is in local interest," Neuenswander said. "I think Eudora is like any other community, there are people who are living in substandard housing."

Representatives from Habitat met with local officials last month to discuss the possibility of the program coming to Eudora. Andre Bollaert, executive director of Habitat's Lawrence office, said Lawrence's constant expansion helped open the door for Eudora.

"We're exploring the possibility of going out into the outlying communities in the county and putting together partnerships in those areas," Bollaert said. "If we look at it on a countywide need, we need to look everywhere."

With Habitat, Bollaert said, homebuyers and community members benefit in both receiving and giving a home to families in need.

"It's a really powerful program," Bollaert said. "One of the things about it is we give the community members a chance to make a tangible difference."

As part of the process toward her new home, Williams will be assigned a partner who will walk her through the steps of her sweat equity. With no official timeline set, Neuenswander said the only setback is fund raising. Habitat relies on local groups to donate funds for construction costs. For example, Kansas University fraternity members raised $20,000 for one home in 1999. There will be no shortage of volunteers, Neuenswander said. With funds, there may be a problem.

"We're running behind on our fundraising," Neuenswander said. "Typically, if funds were not an issue, we start a house about every two months. If funds continue to be an issue, we'll just have to drag this pace a little."

Meanwhile, Williams will complete her sweat equity and provide for her grandchildren the best she can. Hopefully soon after, she said, the funds will be available to start on her home, which she plans on staying in for the rest of her life.

"I'll probably die in it, I'm sure," Williams said.

Anyone wanting more information on Habitat for Humanity may call 832-0777.

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